Apple’s new Watch (mistakenly referred to as the “iWatch” in media rumors) is now officially “official,” although still not here. Availability is early 2015, they say.
Notwithstanding that the Watch tells time and several other things, Apple is making a big splash with the health-related capabilities. The device, using sensors, apps and smartphone connectivity, ties itself tightly to data about health, fitness and ultimately healthcare delivery.
It’s likely to be a big wave in the inbound tide of innovation—broadly labeled “wearable technology”—that is beginning to wash ashore in healthcare. Although the eventual timeline is a bit vague, clinical care, outcomes and patient experience are all likely to benefit.
The trendy “big things” on the retail front are various “smart gadgets” that, in one way or another, marry miniaturized sensors and computing capability with clothing (activity monitoring sportswear, etc.) and accessories (smart watch, eyewear, bracelet, etc.). Technology enables people to track their own blood pressure, sleep/wake hours, heart rate, blood sugar, nutrition, respiratory rate, calorie count, blood oxgenation, physical activity, weight loss/gain, and other data.
The estimated market size and growth rate are large. “The wearables market…at perhaps $3 billion to $5 billion today,” Barron’s reports, “[will rise] to perhaps $30 billion to $50 billion over the next three to five years.” What’s more, major players, such as Apple, Google and others have serious ambitions. (See our previous article about Apple’s new app, Health.) As the adoption of consumer devices gains traction, here are some of the reasons that healthcare in general—and patient experience in particular—will benefit:
Doctors are no strangers to technology. Health care providers accept reliable technology that contributes to their ability to provide better care and outcomes. Wearable technology will likely increase in sensitivity accuracy and monitoring capabilities. Some of today’s “gadgetry” will evolve to the medical device category. What’s more, many recognized medical devices either are, or are fast becoming, smaller and more “wearable.”
Health-aware prospective patients. Wearable products target individuals (think prospective patients). Hundreds of startups and established consumer electronics firms are racing new products to the marketplace. Wearable products not only target health- and fitness-minded individuals, they tend to encourage healthy living and positive lifestyle changes.
Informed and engaged patients. Somewhat like how the Internet has enabled a better-informed patient, wearable tech enables what NBC News calls “the quantified self.” Individuals who are actively involved in healthier living tend to make better patients. They engage in behavior modification, actively participate in care decisions, are more compliant with treatment, and ultimately may enjoy favorable outcomes.
Personal Health Record (PHR) integration. It remains to be seen as to how reliable data from wearable technology might play a meaningful role among a patient’s personal health records. Notwithstanding a number of issues (such as accuracy, privacy and security) qualified data from wearable tech may be useful (as many medical devices already are) in detection, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.
Although it’s difficult to plot an adoption timeline as wearable tech items—some of which are on the market while even more are yet to be introduced—but the potential for enhancing the patient experience appear strong. As health-related technology advances into the consumer electronics arena, individuals are actively engaged in collecting data and more involved in their own fitness and health. To some degree, wellness-oriented lifestyles may mean fewer medical appointments. And for those occasions when medical care is necessary, patients and providers are better informed, are more engaged in a partnership of patient-centered care, with greater professional and patient satisfaction.