Healthcare executives are looking at how consumer- and medical-grade wearables can help improve treatment opportunities and enhance the patient experience.
There will be a 16.7% year-over-year growth across the global wearables market this year, according to Gartner Inc. forecasts. It’s estimated that sales of wearable devices generated revenue of $30.5 billion in 2017. Of that, $9.3 billion was from smartwatches.
With so much growth predicted, Managed Healthcare Executive (MHE) asked the panelists who presented at PULSE: The Atlantic Summit on Health Care in Boston on April 9, to discuss the “Wearable Revolution,” what’s new in wearables, and what the future holds.
Here, Tom Beauregard, chief innovation officer of UnitedHealth Group; John Moore, medical director, Fitbit; and Rosalind Picard, professor, MIT Media Lab and cofounder and chief scientist, Empatica, do just that.
MHE: What is the “Wearable Revolution” and why is it important?
Beauregard: Wearable devices have the potential to fundamentally change how people manage their health, both in terms of preventing disease and helping people more effectively manage chronic conditions. At UnitedHealth Group, we are using wearable devices to motivate people to move more and develop healthy habits, including our UnitedHealthcare Motion wellness program. UnitedHealthcare Motion is available in more than 40 states nationwide and enables people to use wearable devices to earn more than $1,000 per year in rewards by meeting certain daily walking goals. Since the program’s inception, participants have collectively walked more than 180 billion steps and earned nearly $30 million in rewards.
Moore: We are in the midst of transforming consumer-focused devices into digital health tools and have redefined how we think and learn about health and wellness by making technology that was previously only accessible through a lab or clinical experience available on the wrist.
Fitbit’s vision is to make the world healthier and that includes helping healthcare providers better support their patients beyond the walls of the clinical environment. We are working with health plans, researchers, and other healthcare companies to make that vision a reality.
While wearables are critical to driving behavior change, they are not the only piece of the puzzle. Fitbit’s recent acquisition of Twine Health will allow us to combine devices with personalized coaching and AI driven insights to manage common chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, and for lifestyle interventions, such as weight loss and smoking cessation. Together, there is an opportunity to deliver a powerful solution that encourages behavior change, prevention, and adherence to care plans that can collectively lead to positive health outcomes.
We believe we can help build stronger connections between consumers and their care teams by removing some of the most difficult barriers to behavior change. One example is enabling health coaches to be a bridge for healthcare providers beyond the walls of the clinical environment. Wearable devices can provide activity, sleep, and heart rate data, a powerful tool in helping a provider better understand a patient’s full picture of health.
MHE: What’s new in wearables?
Beauregard: One of the latest trends that UnitedHealth Group is driving is integrating human support with data from real-time sources, such as digital health technology, and historical sources, such as claims data. The goal is to help improve and personalize how people navigate the health system.
For instance, we created a pilot program for eligible UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan participants with diabetes to use Dexcom Mobile Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) System to track their blood glucose levels 24/7, enabling them to understand how their behaviors affect their glucose so they can take appropriate actions. Participants also receive personalized diabetes coaching and an activity tracker to help them understand and act upon the data gathered by the CGM device. Together, these tools empower people with type 2 diabetes to manage glucose levels and can result in increased glucose control, reductions in medications and improved confidence in managing their diabetes.
Moore: Wearables are becoming an important tool within the healthcare sector that can help improve patient engagement and support better health outcomes. With 25 million active Fitbit users, we’ve learned that using data with compelling content to provide insights and personalized guidance, can provide the motivation and engagement that leads to successful behavior change. These changes can transform care from episodic to preventive—leading to better outcomes for people and for our system overall.
More data also gives us a better understanding about health at the individual and population level. There are more than 6.8 million Fitbit users who have connected their data into population health and health management platforms.
Wearable devices are also being used widely within clinical research. An analysis published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal found that Fitbit devices are the most commonly used tracker in biomedical research. To date, more than 500 published studies have utilized a Fitbit device, which includes the use of wearables in areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular health, oncology, mental health, and more. Additionally, Fitbit was selected as the first wearable to be used in the NIH All of Us Research Program, an ambitious longitudinal study aiming to collect the baseline characteristics of 1 million+ Americans.