The changing healthcare landscape incited one of the most lucrative market expansions in 2016. As wearable technology has become more mainstream in healthcare, patients are now receiving care in a variety of ways without being constrained by time, geography, or the level of their condition. This shift gives more weight to the growing “on-demand economy.” While many on-demand services are rooted in luxury and convenience, I’d argue that healthcare’s approach has more behind it than groceries being delivered to your doorstep.
In fact, through the introduction of wearable technology, the healthcare industry has been able to collect and analyze user data to dramatically improve health outcomes. The result is that the patient is put in the driver’s seat in managing their own health. Take, for example, a wearable that connects to a mobile app. Within a few moments, the user can check their heart rate, glucose levels, how many calories they burned throughout the day, or even find immediate relief from their most paralyzing chronic pain. The opportunities are endless when it comes to wearable technology.
Application of wearables in healthcare
Wearable devices are playing a prominent role in evolving the delivery model of healthcare and continues to show its value, predicted to be worth $31.27 billion by 2020. Driven by this trend, many medical devices are undergoing a design refresh to enhance the patient experience, becoming smaller and more mobile.
For instance, Massachusetts General Hospital is using wearable devices in its cardiology program. Patients are able to have the option of an appointment with their doctors in real-time to discuss their treatment, while the data from the wearables informs the visit. Additionally, the wearable data is used to reduce visits to the office. Instead, the doctor can review data collected from the devices, make recommendations based on that data, and then shape their treatment method.
Moreover, the versatility and portability of a wearable make them attractive to providers that want to cut down on in-person visits and allow physicians to have an alternative to prescription medication. No longer are these wearables limited to the wrist; they now come in many forms, from shirts, headbands, eyeglasses, belts, necklaces, and more. While there are different options, what they do have in common is the personalization and convenience in the delivery of care.
Chronic pain – A billion dollar problem
Wearable technology is poised to make an impact on the estimated 100 million people in the United States living with chronic pain. According to The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States, the total annual impact of chronic pain reported to range from $560 billion to $635 billion in the U.S. Despite massive spending, and overprescribing of opioids, over half of chronic pain sufferers feel that their pain is not adequately managed. There is growing consensus that advanced, personalized medical wearable technologies offer the most promising approaches for the challenges in the healthcare system.
Emerging technology opens possibilities of drug-free options, for those living with chronic pain. Technologies, such as Quell, are non-invasive and have been shown to effectively manage pain, levels of relief without the risk of dependency, and other undesirable side effects from pain medication. These devices use neurotechnology to relieve pain by sending signals to the brain that stimulates the production of enkephalins, endogenous opioids that have been shown to block pain signals in the body.
Wearable neurostimulation can be used to treat chronic pain such as back pain, nerve pain, arthritic pain, and foot and leg pain. This technology is different from traditional TENS devices that are used for localized pain relief. For example, Quell, which is worn on the upper calf, uses neural pulse stimulation to provide widespread relief for chronic pain. Users of this device also have the ability to customize their therapy through an app, as well as track and review detailed insights about therapy, sleep, pain, and activity. In fact, according to a clinical study, 80% of Quell users reported improvement in chronic pain after 60 days.
Patient empowerment through wearable technology
In addition to the direct costs of treating chronic pain, the indirect costs, including lost productivity, are substantial. A study published in JAMA looked at lost productivity, including absence and reduced performance, due to common pain conditions, during a 2-week period. Wearables empower people to reclaim both their personal and professional lives, without drugs.
The on-demand economy within the healthcare industry has provided those living with chronic pain and other conditions with personalized treatment plans, virtual therapy, and the ability to vastly improve their quality of life. This new generation of wearables has empowered consumers to take charge of their health. To truly optimize care in today’s evolving healthcare environment, connectivity, convenience, mobility, and flexibility must be at center stage.
Editor’s note: I had the opportunity to interview Shai Gazani, MD, Ph.D, President and CEO of Neurometrix (creators of Quell), at the 2016 Consumers Electronic Show. You can learn more about Quell by watching the video.