How Wearables are Impacting Healthcare

Read Part I of this blog series on wearables in healthcare

As I mentioned in the first part of this blog series, wearables have become more than a passing trend and are truly changing the way people and organizations think about managing health. I hear from many companies and customers who want to understand how the wearables market is impacting patient care as well as some of the changes taking place with providers, insurers, and employers. In the next several blogs, I'll share some of their questions and my responses. Today's question is:

What are some of the ways that wearables are impacting providers, payers, and employers as well as patients?

For providers, one example is a pilot that the Mayo Clinic did with Fitbit to track patients recovering from cardiac surgery. They were able to predict which of those patients would be discharged sooner than others based on their activity in the hospital. You can easily see how this use case could be extended outside of the hospital, where you might be able to use wearables to more accurately predict which patients are at the highest risk for hospital readmission. This of course is a key quality metric that hospitals are incentivized to reduce.

On the payer side, organizations are using wearable devices to influence the behavior of their members, encourage a healthier lifestyle, and delay the onset of conditions like obesity and diabetes. Cigna has a program for their own employees where they identify individuals who may be at risk for diabetes. They created a wearables program that encouraged increased activity in those individuals’ daily lives, and it’s making a difference.

Gartner finds that over 2,000 corporate wellness programs have integrated wearables to track employees’ physical activity and incentivize them, sometimes financially, to have a healthier lifestyle. BP rolled out a program with 14,000 employees. Those who were able to achieve 1 million steps (equivalent to roughly 500 miles for an average-size person) over the course of a one year period received a health plan premium reduction the following year.

Now, has anybody been able to aggregate enough wearable data for some serious predictive analytics, or is that down the road? I think that’s down the road; certainly before it becomes mainstream. This will entail significant data integration and big data analytics. We’re looking to pull in multi-structured data from multiple distributed entities and repositories – data from electronic health records, health insurance claims, in some cases socioeconomic data, and all the new sensor data from wearables. If we can pull the continuous stream of patient-generated data into a repository, and overlay more traditional payer and provider data, I suspect the accuracy of predictive models will be significantly improved. We’ll be much better able to identify high-risk patients that will benefit most from additional outreach by a provider organization.

What questions do you have?

In my next blog, I’ll look at the primary challenges companies are facing in collecting, analyzing, and sharing data generated by wearables.