Wearables in Healthcare: Activity Trackers May Be Useful After All

Written BY

Emily Friedman

December 7, 2015

Written by Special Guest Blogger Milos Todorovic, Analyst, Lux Research

One of the pervasive topics at the inaugural Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit held in Houston, TX was the medical professionals’ increasing embrace of Google Glass and similar products as tools to optimize their own workflows. One of the topics that did not receive as much attention was the use of wearables by patients and the willingness of doctors to incorporate data from such devices into their decision making processes. General sentiment is that the future uses of wearables will span a spectrum of applications from longer-term, continuous monitoring of vitals, both in clinical settings and at home – enabled by devices like Vital Connect’s patch – to performing IVD tests on bodily fluids with future devices like Electrozyme’s printed biosensor strips. All of these applications have been discussed in the industry circles for years, yet the use of wearables for patient monitoring and diagnostics has caught very little traction.

However, what caught our attention was the mention of standard activity trackers as tools doctors might use to monitor patients’ activity levels pre- and post-surgery. Patients are often instructed to follow specific exercise regimes to lose weight before surgeries and to aid rehabilitation after the procedures. Having the ability to monitor how well patients are complying with doctors’ orders in real time without the need for frequent consultations can significantly minimize the risks of delayed operations and complications during rehabilitation.

Often ostracized for their low accuracy and inability to provide clinical grade measurements, activity trackers are rarely considered suitable for health care applications. This general view of present-day wearables as unfit for medical use is well justified by their performance; typical activity monitors are often more than 10% off when measuring resting heart rate and even more so when the person is moving. However, this inaccuracy is not critical when it comes to tracking patients’ general level of activity as they work to lose weight prior to surgery or undergo physical therapy after the procedure. All doctors are looking to get from these devices is the information whether the patient is following their instructions and gives them the ability to preemptively act – often by calling the patient or sending an email or text message – in cases when they notice that their patients are struggling.

This becomes increasingly important as the new regulations, such as Affordable Care Act in the U.S., increasingly place more emphasis on improving outcomes and shift the burden on providers to ensure that patients recover from their illnesses quicker and better. Doctors are now motivated to track their patients outside the clinical settings and ensure compliance with prescribed regimens to avoid relapses, as these relapses can directly cost them in reduced reimbursements from insurers. If a simple activity tracker can provide enough information to doctors to ensure they don’t have to treat the same patient for the same condition again, then they will quickly incorporate these devices into their workflows. Activity tracker developers need to recognize this opportunity and actively promote their devices as useful tools for health care providers. If successful, they can significantly increase their sales – as an illustration, there are more than 50 million surgical procedures performed annually in the U.S. alone. However, to fully grasp this opportunity, manufacturers will have to change their marketing strategy and shift from direct consumer sales to selling to providers and insurance companies.

Milos Todorovic is an Analyst who leads Lux Research’s BioElectronics Intelligence. Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

Further Reading