by Eran Ofir, CEO and Co-founder, Somatix
When Seiko introduced one of the first “smartwatches” in the late 90’s, which featured a two-line display and the ability to send text messages to friends (essentially a pager in the shape of a watch), no one could have imagined the capabilities future smartwatches would offer. However, the smartwatch only truly took off in 2015, when Apple released the first-generation Apple Watch. In true Apple form, the Apple Watch offered users a sleek design, and all the friendly apps on which millions of Apple users have become so reliant. Fitness trackers have also developed over the years to become more than step counters, and now have the ability to track heart rate, steps, mileage and even quality of sleep. Critical to note is the market growth expected for smartwatches, smart bands, and other fitness trackers –Gartner projects that by 2021 there will be approximately 167.13 million smart “wrist-worn” devices around the globe.
These wearables and fitness trackers have become both fashionable and adept at feeding us massive volumes of data.
But what do we do with these numbers we are fed? Maybe we compare with family and friends on our daily step counts or see just how many times we woke up over the course of a night. For many, the mindfulness effect alone of tracking our steps has been motivation enough to get out and walk instead of taking the bus or driving.
Yet, entrepreneurs, analysts, researchers and investors and major technology players are busy discussing how wearables are going to impact healthcare in a more significant manner and are working to develop new health-focused solutions. With all of this momentum and progress are recent studies, which have shown that the medical community is still unsure that wearable-based health interventions are going to be as revolutionary as the excitement suggests.
We are at the stage of reconciling the hype around health-impacting wearables with whether these devices can truly make a difference. This reconciliation comes as we emerge from the stage of what we can call “Wearables 1.0” – wearables used to track fitness, or observe basic medical parameters (heartbeat, blood pressure, sleep).
Moving from Wearables 1.0 to Wearables 2.0
Wearables 1.0 is no longer enough if these devices are truly going to revolutionize healthcare. We have massive amounts of data in our hands. But it is only the ability to accurately and effectively analyze this data, and provide an action, diagnosis, or insight that will change the landscape.
We are now entering the phase of “Wearables 2.0.,” which supports the core emerging trends that are poised to transform healthcare. Technologies including Big Data Analytics, AI, Machine Learning and Predictive Analysis will take wearables from “cool” or “interesting” to essential for the healthcare system. Wearables 2.0 will monitor our body activities and physiological parameters to provide deeper information about our physical, and even emotional state, on a regular basis – and ultimately allow for more precise observation and treatment.
This is a major shift in the way the healthcare system has traditionally worked. Until recently, medical data was collected, mostly, via lab tests of people seeking a cure to a specific symptom or set of symptoms. Doctors ordered tests, and pending lab results, followed specific treatment protocols. Wearables 2.0 will add another layer of information to help medical professionals understand how to cure patients’ ailments and will be able to provide insights into what will keep each patient healthy, or even prevent the next illness. Thus, Wearables 2.0 is the catalyst of a paradigm shift in healthcare: from curing to caring.
This is how these high-level terms – Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning and Predictive Analysis –meet to transform the healthcare system, enabling more precise and personalized treatments.
Remote and Continuous Patient Monitoring and Wearables
These developments are important building blocks behind the emerging domain of Remote Patient Monitoring. Governments and medical organizations are working to understand the cost structure of remote treatment. This is why the newly announced Reimbursement for Remote Patient Monitoring and New Telemedicine Codes only reinforce the benefits of this revolution. Any new approach can only successfully enter our highly fragmented healthcare system if it can fit into that system. This new reimbursement structure legislation will allow wearables to improve medical care, as outlined above, and do so at a lower cost to the overall system – a true win-win situation.
Once this takes place, patients can be given a low-cost wearable and have information continuously sent back to their healthcare provider with insights and analysis provided through Machine Learning-based algorithms. Wearables can be used to support aging-in-place, tracking the health and potential deterioration of patients, and even employing geo-fencing tools to ensure that families are aware of their loved one’s whereabouts. Wearables will be effectively employed to provide personalized coaching for health challenges including medication adherence, smoking cessation, heart health, monitoring and keeping physicians updated on neurological conditions. The applications are endless.
Where We Go from Here
The major benefits of wearable technologies combined with Machine Learning and Predictive Analysis will come from the ease-of-use of the solution. Patients working to quit smoking won’t need to manually record each smoking episode, as this can be monitored through real-time gesture detection using wearables; those at risk of heart disease will not need to self-report exercising to their physicians, as this information will be automatically passed to their primary care provider; children of elderly parents can rest at ease as parents’ activities of daily living can be monitored by unobtrusive wearables and any deterioration can be noticed to provide proactive interventions. Utilizing these technologies will allow us to create more passive treatment for patients for innumerable health concerns, while supporting the efforts of physicians. Furthermore, this will enable clinicians to follow up on and enhance compliance and adherence with the prescribed treatment.
The examples of what is possible for wearables’ ability to transform healthcare go as far as the human mind can reach, but they ultimately share a common denominator: a shift to personalized, value-based care. Through our work utilizing wearables, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, we have seen the very beginnings of what is possible and where technology will take healthcare in the future.