Wearable technology may be relatively new, but it’s already having a huge impact on the healthcare industry. From sensors that monitor blood pressure or predict heart attacks, to those showing surgeons how many steps patients take after cardiac surgery, patients and clinicians are already seeing big benefits. Something that looks likely to continue.
What these innovations can achieve in the future seems limitless. Those in the know anticipate massive growth in wearable technology over the next few years – some estimates predict the global market will be worth over $6 billion by 2018. Over a third of the wearable tech used today is health related, largely thanks to widespread diabetes and an aging global population. Those are some big numbers, so it’s no surprise the healthcare industry is at the forefront of exploring the possibilities of this imminent boom.
So, what do these exciting new developments mean for patients and what impact could these tools have on healthcare market research?
It’s possible that by using wearable technology market researchers can gain better insights from the patient’s perspective, collecting raw, unmodified information as they go about their daily lives. Take something like Google Glass for example. It could allow us to see patients making in-the-moment decisions, and collect information on their everyday routine as they progress along their journey.
Other devices include fitness trackers, such as Flex Fit and Jawbone Up, that can help people get fit, lose weight, and monitor their sleep and heart health. Philips and Accenture have got together to develop software that could give more independence to ALS and MS sufferers, and the elderly and disabled. Diabetes patients can have Bluetooth-connected glucometers connected to an app on their mobile device, be made more aware of their diet and exercise, and receive reminders to take their medication regularly. Even wearing a shirt containing sensors can tell HCPs how a patient is recovering from cardiac disease, measure their blood pressure, provide information on recovery after surgery or monitor their vital signs. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s clear that recording and storing data through these types of devices, then analysing the data to make changes that improve how patients are treated could be hugely beneficial. Wearable tech can even give us some insight into the restrictions their illness has on their lives, how they take their medication, and what difficulties and challenges they face.
In the near future, patients could be using wearable tech, such as the Apple Smart Watch, MagicLeap or Sony Morpheus during healthcare visits to help understand and analyse how they communicate with their HCP, so they can receive information more effectively. Or even use the Microsoft HoloLens or Oculus Rift to allow patients to have a virtual reality consultation with their HCP from the comfort of their own home. In certain circumstances this could make collecting data less stressful for patients and more convenient for us.
As the data is collected automatically there’s no chance of human error or a patient shying away from the truth of their illness. They can’t very well say they have optimum medication adherence if the information from the device is telling another story. And as the data isn’t reliant on a person recording it, it’s 100% accurate and complete. This is a great help to healthcare market researchers, as they can rely on the on-going data and record exactly how patients react to their treatment.
All this new technology looks hugely promising, but it’s not without a few sensitive ethical issues. Will the up-to-date nature of the information mean patients can make informed decisions about how they manage their condition and take back their independence? Or will the technology create a gap between patients and HCPs, where there is less interaction and patients feel they don’t need to see their doctor face to face?
Another important aspect of how we use this technology is privacy and patient confidentiality. Patients must be assured their privacy is protected, and there is extra digital security in place to protect this sensitive personal information.
The ever-increasing pace of wearable technology development also means we’ll need legislation to protect the vulnerable, protect consent, and avoid only wealthy, tech-savvy patients having access to wearable tech in the future.
These concerns are unlikely to put off these technological giants. They’re already producing a whole host of innovative new products, including Apple Smart Watch, Google Glass, fitness devices, and smartphone apps, and the numbers are growing all the time. Google recently teamed up with Novartis to measure glucose levels in tears, MC10 is developing remote monitoring tools, including a patch for babies that sends their temperature to smartphones, while Cerora has developed a headset that provides information on concussions, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease. These are interesting times for healthcare.
It’s clear there are exciting times ahead for wearable technology, and the endless possibilities open to patients, HCPs and healthcare market researchers using it. It would appear that when it comes to medical science we’re already living in the future. Proceed cautiously and who knows where wearable technology might take health and healthcare, and what it might do for the research that supports it.
Huw Davies – Qualitative Services Manager at GKA
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