With significant growth projections, 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. The first question is:
Please give an overview of the wearable technology industry as it relates to healthcare, and what is the projected growth?
In healthcare there are two main vectors of activity, starting with the health and fitness-oriented consumer devices such as the Fitbit, Fuel Band, and some of the emerging smart watches. These devices measure steps, sleep activity or general activity to try to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
The second vector includes devices found in clinical settings. For example, a company called Sotera Wireless has a vital signs monitoring device that is worn by the patient in the hospital. The key value proposition is that you have continuous monitoring rather than having a nurse come in periodically to take the patient’s vitals. Plus, the patient is not tethered to the wall or the bed so they can move and walk around more freely.
Another example that was not necessarily designed for clinicians is Google Glass, which has received a fair amount of press. It has been approved for use in some hospitals, and there are a number of use cases emerging. One is around streamlining clinician workflow support, so the clinician doesn’t have to interact with other screens in other areas of the patient room or the operating room.
In this first wave of wearable device adoption in the healthcare industry, we see a lot of repurposing of devices that were originally designed for other uses. Over time, we’ll see more sophisticated devices targeted at the industry. Some wearable devices will likely be regulated, for example, those for real-time glucose monitoring. But the payoff will be that purpose-built devices can better meet the complex needs of the healthcare industry, whether it’s, for example, remote monitoring of patients or encouraging health plan members to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
According to IDC, vendors will ship over 45 million wearable units in 2015; an increase of over 133 percent from 2014 worldwide shipments. They predict 45 percent annual growth for shipment volumes over the next several years, meaning roughly 126 million devices in 2019. If you look more broadly at the Internet of Things (IoT), in which wearables are a category, IDC is predicting a 36 billion dollar market for healthcare by 2018, so there are very aggressive growth projections.
In healthcare, the key driver of growth is moving from periodic monitoring, traditionally associated with the occasional visit to a doctor, to daily or even continuous monitoring of the patient’s specific conditions and general wellness. Wearables won’t replace the doctor visit, but they can establish baselines to measure against, and the streaming patient-generated data they sense and collect will improve the accuracy of predictive models to give insight into how a patient is really doing in near-real time. We are seeing just the tip of the iceberg today as companies target the healthcare vertical and build more sensing capabilities into devices.
What questions about wearables do you have? What do you think?
In my next blog, I'll look at some of the ways that wearables are impacting providers, payers and employers as well as patients.