Wearable technology devices track and record health and fitness data. Sensors record heart rate, body fat composition, perspiration and much more through skin contact, while GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes measure movement, distance and speed. An accompanying mobile device then syncs the data.
The immense volume of data that can be captured has significant implications for the health care industry. For example, data securely provided to health care professionals could assist in making accurate diagnoses and delivering effective medical treatment.
Unfortunately, these technologies have an inherent weakness in secure interoperability. The solution lies in the secure transfer of health information, combined with advanced health analytics. Improved care requires the proper statistical algorithms and analytical tools to securely extract and analyze the information hidden in the immense amount of data.
Placing real-time health data in patients’ hands changes the paradigm from a decade ago, when patients relied solely on a doctor’s professional opinion. Now, patients can continuously monitor their health. This empowerment may lead to fewer and shorter doctor visits, fewer medical tests and better health care outcomes.
An added benefit is that providers can learn, consult and teach more effectively through analysis of this health data. The value to medical researchers is equally valuable—access to secure, continually updated medical data on millions of individuals is priceless.
To employ wearable technology in health, we must develop IT infrastructures that provide secure access and back-end support. To incentivize patients to provide data, there must be a feedback mechanism that yields value through meaningful health outcomes. By bringing together patients with a common chronic disease, such as diabetes, wearable technologies can serve to build engagement and create patient care communities. The pool of data associated with a specific patient health condition would be invaluable in transitioning traditional health care models toward more effective population health management.
Outcomes-driven health organizations need the ability to securely capture and leverage the data. Developing a health data analytics initiative is essential in addressing this opportunity. It is imperative that data in the modernized DoD electronic medical records and wearable devices be the central focus of future analytics initiatives. This application of analytics in health care organizations will significantly improve quality of care at a reduced cost.
By creating applications for clinical data outside the EMR, providers, case workers and patients can be provided an opportunity to view health history in a way that can support wise personal and clinical choices. For example, a diabetes management application graphing recent hemoglobin A1C values against activity level may motivate patients to make healthier choices, provide case workers with quantifiable data applicable to their role, and support physicians’ informed decisions regarding medication adjustments.
Return on Investment
As with any technology, return on investment is essential to successful implementation. An approach to demonstrating return on investment (ROI) of wearable technology may focus on health care cost drivers. For example, chronic illness represents 75 percent of current health care costs. The cost of care for our chronically ill population makes in-home monitoring imperative.
Additionally, the use of these devices may decrease readmission rates, especially with an aging demographic. Emergency room readmissions represent billions in costs, and there is evidence that continuous monitoring of chronic health conditions is associated with improved symptom recognition and decreased use of acute care services.
Finally, one of the most effective health measures is self-management. Healthy lifestyle decisions can be reinforced by wearable technology. For example, monitoring blood glucose can not only improve outcomes but also reduce costs. If treatment costs for a chronic disease identified early are lower, then we would reasonably expect total health care costs associated with chronic disease to fall.
While wearable technology will eventually demonstrate ROI, the driver for adoption is not the ROI but the realization that today’s health care cost structure is untenable. With health care spending in the United States approaching 20 percent of our gross domestic product, there are but so many consecutive double-digit increases in health care cost to be endured before bankrupting individual families and jeopardizing national security.
Ulmont “Monty” Nanton is senior vice president for strategic accounts at ManTech Health, ManTech International Corporation’s health IT business unit. Monty is a former U.S. Army Medical Service Corps officer and has over 30 years of experience delivering health analytics and IT to the health care community.
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- Volume: 19