How Wearable Technology in Healthcare Creates More Personalized Care Management

A Digitally Enabled Healthcare Story June 28, 2022

Platform-based health monitoring devices have become a common lifestyle accessory for people who have access to them. The consumer wearable technology market is predicted to more than double in the next several years, going from $116 billion in 2021 to $256 billion by 2026. 

These consumer wearable devices have evolved from simply tracking steps and heart rate to enabling blood oxygen saturation monitoring, sleep pattern detection, FDA-approved electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors, fall detection, and more. Health monitoring devices benefit consumers by encouraging healthy behaviors and enabling the tracking of key health metrics; their role in keeping people healthy and even improving health outcomes also makes them valuable tools for care providers, payers, and employers.

Equally exciting is the innovation happening in the clinical sensor space, in which devices are used to identify and monitor a range of medical conditions. Some examples include:  

  • Sensors that help people with diabetes continuously monitor their glucose level
  • ECG patches used by cardiologists to detect arrhythmias
  • Sensors that help diagnose obstructive sleep apnea from the comfort of one’s home
  • Contactless sensors measuring movement, breathing patterns and heart rate

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began paying for Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) in 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further spurred these remote monitoring devices due to the widespread adoption of telehealth.

The Different Types of Health Monitoring Devices

Remote health monitoring technology, which typically uses Bluetooth or scannable data to communicate with a smartphone app, can take various forms:

  • Head-based: A variety of smart headbands gather biometric data from your brain. These are largely being marketed as tools to improve sleep and reduce stress.
  • Foot-based: Engineers and companies are developing smart mats, shoes and inserts with sensors to address a range of health concerns, from preventing diabetic foot problems to improving walking balance for people with sensory peripheral neuropathy. 
  • Apparel-based: Even your clothes can become a wearable device today due to embedded sensors and smart threads, used mostly to monitor exercise.
  • Biosensors: Some consumer biosensors are used to track hydration levels and offer real-time insights based on that data. Other clinical sensors are used for remote patient monitoring: Sibel Health’s ANNE Sleep is a soft, wireless sensor that can help detect conditions such as sleep apnea, a growing health concern for millions of people in the U.S.  
  • Wrist-based: The smartwatch market, which grew 24% year-over-year in 2021, includes wrist-worn devices that collect and monitor a wide range of biometric data, from heart rate to blood pressure.

The Impact of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

Platform-based health monitoring devices are a key tool in RPM, particularly for people who need consistent observation or who have difficulty getting to their doctor’s office. The U.S. Government Accountability Office defined RPM as “a coordinated system that uses one or more home-based or mobile monitoring devices that transmit vital sign data or information on activities of daily living that are subsequently reviewed by a healthcare professional.”

The market for these devices is growing. In 2020, an estimated 29 million people used RPM devices. By 2025, that is projected to grow to more than 70 million.

“This tech is drastically changing how we take care of ourselves,” said Rajeev Ronanki, senior vice president of Elevance Health and president of Carelon Digital Platforms. “We recognize how consumers choosing to share their data with their providers between doctors’ visits can have a positive impact on helping them stay healthier. We also believe that contactless sensors, in combination with technologies such as artificial intelligence, may help us be more predictive in identifying possible health conditions and provide more actionable insights to individuals and their care providers.”

A survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found that more than half of care providers found wearable technology in healthcare helpful. They reported using both clinical and commercial devices to monitor their patients’ health conditions and vitals, track medications, follow the recovery of post-op patients, and track sleep. All of which gives care providers more information, allowing them to improve care and health outcomes — though most devices still require people to manually send data to their care provider.

There are still some challenges with the use of remote health monitoring devices in healthcare. In a survey of people by Software Advice, 20% of people said their medically prescribed wearable device was hard to use and 87% said they had reported inaccurate biometric data with their wearable devices at least once. Cost was another reported downside. Overall, however, a vast majority of people — 86% of those that use them — said that their remote health monitoring devices enabled doctors to provide higher quality care, improved their health, and elevated their quality of life.

As innovation in remote health monitoring technology continues, its potential to impact overall health and medical treatment is likely to grow as well. 

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