November 4, 2015

The Evolution of Health-Monitoring Wearables

The Evolution of Health-Monitoring Wearables

Technology is changing everything that we do including how we gather and interpret information in the healthcare sector. For instance, Apple has recently hooked up with 14 of the biggest U.S. hospitals—including Stanford, Duke, and the Mayo Clinic–to monitor patient health outside the hospital or clinic.

Although other juggernaut technology companies like Google and Samsung have tried to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables (think health monitors and activity trackers) to provide physicians and hospitals with data, Apple has distinguished itself in this endeavor by aggressively collaborating with major hospitals and big companies like Nike, a maker of wearables, and Epic, the leading maker of electronic health record (EHR) software. Experts believe that these partnerships will help Apple succeed where others have stumbled.


The Evolution of Health-Monitoring Wearables

Apple’s HealthKit is not replacing many mobile healthcare apps consumers presently use. The platform serves as a hub for various health apps and fitness tracking devices to “talk” to one another. Picture by BidnessETC


Reaching the Patient Beyond the Hospital is Impossible so far

Before we look at a couple of specific examples of Apple’s health monitoring in action, let’s quickly examine the logistics of gathering such healthcare information. About 53 percent of American hospitals and clinics use Epic, a type of EHR, to collate patient data, including vital signs, history, and physical examinations, progress notes, medication histories, and more. However, this information is limited to the healthcare environment itself, and once the patient leaves the hospital or clinic, most reliable data gathering stops.

By equipping wearables with Apple’s HealthKit, an IoT application, a patient’s EHR is automatically updated, and healthcare professionals can remotely monitor disease biomarkers (weight, blood pressure, blood sugars and so forth). This information is valuable and potentially saves lives, time and billions of dollars by indicating when a patient with serious illness like heart disease needs to be admitted to the hospital. Currently, unnecessary admissions come at a tremendous cost to hospitals worldwide and are the bane of healthcare providers everywhere.


What About Physicians Prescribing Wearables Rather Than Drugs

For people with type 1 diabetes, blood glucose or sugar monitoring is of principal importance. When blood sugars get out of control, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a deadly complication, can result. However, by continuously monitoring blood sugars using an Apple Watch equipped with Apple HealthKit, a physician can catch an issue before it gets out of hand.

Similarly, for heart failure, biomarkers like blood pressure and body weight are extremely important when assessing the severity of a disease. By equipping a patient with the proper wearables, a physician can remotely assess their status and act before a problem escalates.

In the realm of health care, the use of Apple HealthKit to monitor patient health in the real world and in real-time represents an evolution in wearable consumption: from consumer-initiated interactions to healthcare-initiated interactions. In other words, instead of a patient purchasing health-monitoring wearables to monitor health status on her own, physicians now prescribe such technology.

On a final note, one potential limitation is the added work for physicians when prescribing Apple’s health-monitoring technology. Physicians and healthcare staff must make sure that the patient receives the right wearable with an updated iOS and that the patient understands how to properly use this technology. All these extra steps mean more work for healthcare providers. Nevertheless, such concerns are far outweighed by the potential benefit that such technology proffers.