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Putting Wearables to Work: How Your Wearable Health Tracker Keeps You and Your Doctor Connected
With Apple’s “Wearable” category of sales setting a new record this September with growth over 50%, and FitBit seeing growth in both trackers and smartwatches with sales passing 3.5 million units, there’s no doubt that wearables are steadily increasing in popularity. These devices include plenty of features to excite you about your health, but is that information ever going to contribute to your actual healthcare experience?
You bet it is! Here are some ways it’s already happening, along with some developments that are anticipated to take your health to the next level.
Migrating from Wellness to Patient Care
The most popular wearables--Apple Watch, FitBit and Garmin--are primarily geared toward wellness. But they are far from the only wearables on the market. Iqvia’s report on The Growing Value of Digital Health cites that the market includes over 340 consumer wearable devices and over 318,000 health apps worldwide. For the most part, those apps are aimed at tracking and wellness - water consumption, counting steps, or tracking food. However, health condition management apps are growing at a faster rate, representing 40% of health-related apps.
What does this mean for users? It means that developers know that we want to use wearables for more than counting our steps or weight lifting reps. Iqvia’s report identifies that patients should set health goals and priorities with their doctors, then use wearable sensors and apps to gather data and report back to their care provider. Wearables allow doctors to collect data over longer and more constant periods, lending more validity to the results and gaining insight for what the next steps in patient care should be.
Devices With Heart
Apple has developed an app to enable wearable users to participate in a study in conjunction with Stanford Medicine to promote early detection of irregular heart rhythms and other health issues. The study stopped accepting new participants in August of 2018, but the premise illustrates the ability to gather mass amounts of data to better identify health issues through clinical analysis of wearable data.
In Apple’s study, users were required to download an app and wear their Apple Watch, to be notified if an irregular heart rhythm is detected. In the event that an irregularity is found, users consult with a clinician and wear an ePatch monitor to gather more data. This is all done without ever having to meet with a doctor in person, allowing providers to care for patients even without access to an office.
Staying Cool Under Pressure
Patients with known health conditions are seeing more and more options to incorporate wearables to manage their own health and share data with their doctors. Omron’s HeartGuide will be the first wearable oscillometric wrist blood pressure monitor, currently in testing for clinical validation. Omron manufactures equipment regularly seen in your doctor’s office, showing that medical instrumentation companies are also crossing over into the wearables space. Their experience lends credibility to their designs, bringing trust for both you and your doctor that the data being gathered is valuable.
In the case of Omron’s HeartGuide, the watch will be able to monitor blood pressure even while the user is sleeping. For patients who have experienced hypertension and other blood pressure conditions, the ability to constantly monitor their blood pressure and share that data with a physician will help patients to proactively manage their medical conditions.
Monitoring Self Care
Have you ever wondered if you took your antibiotics or pain medication, but can’t remember for sure? Tracking medication is important. It’s especially critical for patients who have chronic diseases, such as a diabetic depending on medications to regulate their blood sugar, or patients with mental health conditions where they may not be depended upon to manage their own medications.
In 2017 the FDA approved Abilify MyCite, a monitor that includes sensors in pills that communicate with a wearable patch. This sensor communicates with an app, allowing caregivers and medical professionals to verify that medications have been taken (or not) as prescribed. As long as you are taking your medications, your doctor would be able to conclude if your medications are effective or determine if a new process is needed to encourage better patient care.
Constant Fever Monitoring
Any parent that has had a child with a fever knows it can be difficult to take the temperature of a sleeping or cranky child. While there are tons of thermometer options out there, the TempTraq provides constant data for 48 hours. This arms parents and caregivers in hospitals with a full view of the fever, catching any spikes and providing more accurate data to their doctors. It’s a simple patch that will provide the most accurate body temperature reading; particularly helpful for parents of children who are prone to febrile seizures and wish to monitor their body temperature closely when they’re sick.
Motivating Doctor-Patient Partnership
Doctors often identify the most beneficial aspect of most wearables is motivation. If users are encouraged to be more active, their health will benefit. A “tap tap” to remind you to get up and walk every hour, praise for getting in your workout, proof that you’re staying hydrated, all of those things mean that you’re healthier in general.
For example, doctors at Cedars-Sinai are using wearables to encourage and track walking after surgery. Walking after surgery has known health benefits and yet was hard to quantify in the past when patients were responsible to report their activity. Being able to see progress and quantify your work inspires more activity, which doctors heartily approve of.
Eventually it’s anticipated that data from wearables will help target future health issues, identifying those who are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, or other major health events. As it stands today, the primary purpose of wearables is to inform rather than diagnose. Data is powerful, but shouldn’t cause panic if you see something unusual. You are still the most powerful link between your wearable data and your doctor.