Wearable Health Technology – The Next Big Thing
Wearable health technology is expected to be the NEXT BIG THING in the continually expanding health care field. This is driven by a number of factors including the constant pressure to lower healthcare costs, new opportunities for electronics manufacturers who see revenue dropping from sales of traditional computing hardware,
and the need for accurate information on the state of patients’ biometrics. Wearable devices make these things possible and so much more.
Evolution of this field has been swift. Only a few years ago, health apps burst on the scene so that people could monitor themselves. Pharma companies got into the app act by providing apps that helped patients monitor their symp
toms and track medication compliance. These depended on data entry by the patient, which could be quite unreliable. Many of the current apps in development are used in concert with wearable devices and often with bio-sensing technology to automatically report on the patient’s behavior and or state of health.
Barriers to Wearable Device Adoption
There are barriers to adoption however. Consumers must be equipped with a smart phone or some way to get the data from the device to themselves and their health care provider, therefore it will be important for the software to work on several platforms. Convenience is a key factor here. The device should need very little maintenance. Obviously, cost to the patient is an important factor as well. Insurance companies are scrambling to decide whether or how to cover wearable technology. On one hand they can be expensive, but if used properly, they can save a lot of money by preempting serious health events or reducing the need for doctor visits. HIPPA rules must be followed which means that developers need to ensure that patient data is secure, as well as limiting who has access to it.
Meanwhile the FDA is attempting to reign in these devices through legislation and new regulation. There are an estimated 100,000 health care related apps available. In June of this year, the FDA issued a draft guidance titled “Medical Device Data Systems, Medical Image Storage Devices, and
Medical Image Communications Devices.” The guidance will not seek to control data systems, or imaging data systems as these are considered “low risk” of causing harm to human health. However, any device that can dispense medication or render a therapeutic affect would certainly fall under the proposed regulations.
The cost of sensors and related hardware is dropping fast. The ubiquity of cell phones facilitates the movement of data from the wearable device to the net using data delivery platforms that are off the shelf plug in modules.
Wearable biosensors eliminate the uncertainty in self-reported data, and reduce the need for patients to visit the doctor and to come to the lab for tests. It is expected that these devices will be able to save millions of dollars by reducing office visits alone.
The Next Generation of Wearable Medical Devices
While pharma is developing a large number of applications for disease states, the actual number of wearable devices is limited. Wearables historically have been limited in the health data they passively collect. However, research is ongoing for improved biosensors and materials that will enable a more robust generation of wearable devices and capabilities Currently most of them track very basic parameters such as heart rate, respiration and sleep patterns, however, there is a ground swell of new devices that can monitor medication compliance as well as an increasing variety of specific biomarkers.
The new Apple Watch, scheduled for launch in early 2015 will rapidly accelerate the sophistication of, and expectations for these apps.
Wearable health technology is very fertile ground with lots of untapped opportunity and little competition outside of general health and fitness devices/apps. Forward looking companies are evaluating how they can take advantage of these opportunities either through a partnership or in-house development, but the path to success for pharma is not straight forward at his time
Navigating the Wearable Technology Landscape
Pennside tracks modern marketing programs and can paint the landscape in wearable devices for health and help determine where the best opportunities may lie.