Wearable technology has already transformed the healthcare industry worldwide and this rapid development is not slowing down anytime soon. So what does this mean for both patients and healthcare providers? Patients are experiencing more personalized care and overall, better outcomes. In addition, doctors are able to provide a more holistic analysis of a patient’s health, detect early warning signs, and make a diagnosis early on by tracking a patient’s journey more closely over time. Let’s explore some of the market’s most popular smartwatch technology today, the Apple Watch, and discuss the real impact it will have on the future of healthcare.
Surprisingly, wearable technology has actually existed since the late 90s when Steve Mann created the Linux Smart Watch. Just two years ago in 2018, 28.7 million people were expected to use smartwatches, with Americans over the age of 55 being the largest demographic taking advantage of this technology. In 2019, experts predicted that 60 million people would purchase and use smartwatch technology. At the beginning of 2020, estimates predicted that over 70 million Americans alone will be using smartwatches by the end of the year (21% of the US Population).
This exponential increase in smartwatch users over time may be largely due to two factors: 1) The real-life applicability of smartwatch features that both healthcare patients and practitioners are utilizing 2) a large shift in patient sentiment towards daily health tracking and consumer behavior across the board.
The Apple Watch provides an inclusive list of features to help patients of all ages (but especially above the age of 55). These features include heart rate notifications, irregular rhythm notifications, the ECG App, fall detection, Medical ID, health records on the iPhone, and secure data encryption for patient privacy.
One of the most popular features on the Apple Watch, the heart rate monitor allows patients to get notified if their heart rate is above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm in a ten minute ‘resting’ period. Patients have real-time access to this data by instant notification and can view all of their data over time in the Health App on the iPhone. Furthermore, they can easily share this data with their healthcare provider.
Similar to the heart rate monitor, the irregular rhythm notification occasionally checks for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib); a leading cause of stroke. It uses the optical heart sensor at a patient’s wrist to create an algorithm that detects rhythms that may suggest Atrial fibrillation (or atrial flutter), allowing patients and healthcare providers to identify risk factors or issues earlier on. This data is also stored in the Health App on the iPhone.
Further Reading : A 2017 and 2018 study between Apple, Stanford University School of Medicine, and roughly 400,000 Apple watch users found that wearable technology could detect AFib early on. This study furthered the progression of wearable technology in predicting and improving patient outcomes around the world.
The Apple Watch Series 4 introduced the ECG App, empowering patients to capture a real-time ECG and record of their personal data. The ECG app provides one of 3 results: 1) sinus rhythm 2) AFib 3) or inconclusive ifa poor signal is detected. The app is more advanced and personalized to the patient, asking for symptoms like dizziness or rapid heartbeat. The ECG results, including the associated date, time, and all patient-identified symptoms, can be easily exported from the Health App and shared with a healthcare provider as a PDF.
Further Reading: The ECG app has proven instrumental in helping patients especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read More
This feature is automatically enabled for smartwatch users over the age of 55. If a fall is detected, the fall detection sensor prompts a patient to either call 911 or dismiss the alert. When patients are non-responsive for 10 minutes, the watch automatically calls emergency services and alerts the patient's emergency contact. At the same time, the fall is recorded in the Health App.
The Medical ID allows emergency medical services to access a patient’s medical information quickly, and without using a password in the event of an emergency. First responders and hospitals can check for allergies, medications, and emergency contacts. This fast access to life-saving data can make all of the difference for a patient in a life-or-death situation, when timing is critical.
We’ve discussed many of the important features that the Apple Watch sensor can do for patients, but the Health App on iPhone is the bridge between a patient’s journey and a healthcare professional’s ability to provide better care. The mobile app provides a seamless user experience with easy visuals to show health records (like allergies, medications, procedures, conditions, and clinical vitals) and patient generated data (like heart rate data over time and critical events including falls).
The Health App will securely encrypt patient data, and patients and providers can securely access this through secure logins (fingerprint, facial recognition, and passcodes), without sacrificing patient privacy.
The many benefits that wearable technology, (as demonstrated by the Apple Watch) can provide are a huge step forward in the progression of healthcare. They also teach us a great deal about patient accountability, and the importance of personalized care to better treat and diagnose patients on a personalized level by looking at the bigger picture.
Wearable technology and AI enabled software analytics can also drive insights and action in the greater medical world. Through access to greater patient data, medical researchers and healthcare practitioners can better prevent conditions including but not limited to heart disease. This large shift in how we treat patients in their day-to-day lives becomes more about preventative health, rather than critical or emergency treatment as needed. When nearly 30% of people with aFib don’t even know that they have it, the ability to identify it early on can be lifesaving. It gives patients a better understanding of what’s going on with them, and may prompt them to improve their lifestyle and optimize their outcomes early on.
We expect that the ability of wearable technology to improve patient outcomes will only continue to progress over time. With over 47% of hospitals providing wearable tech to patients with chronic diseases, funding for research and development in wearable tech will continue to increase, surpassing unprecedented spending in the world of healthcare.