Due to the onset of wearable technology and connected devices, the modern healthcare industry is on the verge of massive changes - and possible improvements - to the way it approaches patient health and wellness.
For those with chronic conditions or diseases like diabetes or heart disease, life-saving devices are already part of a robust healthcare plan. Glucose monitors, insulin regulators, and pacemakers are modern marvels compared to the gruesome and downright inhumane methods of treatment popular only 100 years ago, but it won't be long before these innovations take a backseat to low-cost, hyper-accurate real-time monitoring tools that will detect risk factors as they occur, communicating that information to the physician automatically.
While we're not quite there yet, it's not hard to imagine the scope of growth and innovation possible within the next few years. Several tech start-ups have begun exploring the possibility of blurring the lines between technology and physician. Qompium, a Belgian company established in 2014, recently released a smartphone app called FibriCheck that automatically records and monitors irregular heart rhythms. It provides patient-facing monitoring that allows them to monitor their heartbeats from their phones, but it also sends that data to their doctors, allowing them to get a more complete, immediate diagnosis without having to enter a doctor's office. This virtually replaces complex and expensive EKG machines and provides near limitless access to heartrate data and trends over long periods over time.
The Downsides of Data
One of the primary criticisms of wearable technology and the democratization of data is the simple fact that there are few processes in place to sort, organize, and act upon a massive amount of data on a single patient. Moreover, many physicians have voiced concern regarding misinterpretations of medical conditions based on an excess of unrelated or correlated data. Few medical facilities or organizations are equipped to handle a sudden influx of daily biorhythm information, let alone sleep quality data, pedometer tracking, and BMI information that can be easily and automatically gathered by wearable devices.
Privacy concerns are also at the forefront of healthcare executive's apprehensions to adopt more modern solutions to patient care. Because of questionable data privacy standards in commercially-available consumer technologies, much of the data captured and stored in these devices do not match government-mandated medical privacy standards, making it difficult to utilize on a consistent basis.
However, modern data and recording solutions actually help medical professionals eliminate errors and delays - if properly implemented. Modern Electronic Health Records (EHR) can help prevent medical errors due to lack of complete information on a patient's condition and help doctors make more informed decisions based on previous medical visits and the patient's current condition. While there are many shortcomings and problems to be solved (primarily financial and with concerns to privacy), the promise of fully-integrated EHR systems will be a key factor in future medicine.
The Future of Wearables
According to a recent article by Wearable Future Report, more than 80% of people born between 1984 and 2000 consider wearable technologies a viable and convenient method of transferring relevant medical information to physicians and nurses in real time. But beyond wearable technology is a natural evolution to solutions that feel more familiar in the realm of science fiction than reality. Sub-dermal wireless sensors can already transmit blood glucose, blood pressure levels, electrocardiography and heart rate information, vital signs, albuterol inhalers, sleep apnea patterns, and drug intake and compliance rates that can be sent to doctors in real time.
This information, while seemingly broad in scope and without practical applications at the moment, holds tremendous promise for the future of medicine. Since the Human Genome Project, there have been efforts to correct imperfections and supplement human shortcomings on a minuscule scale in order to prevent illnesses and chronic conditions before they become symptomatic. Moreover, by identifying a patient's exact physiology and biochemical makeup, doctors can provide better pharmaceutical care on a singular scale - flying in the face of generalized medicine that's become so comfortable and familiar.
This seismic shift in general medical care comes at troubling times for the rest of the world. Half the world's population doesn't have access to proper medical care, let alone the latest and greatest in medical innovations and technological advancements. However, with the ever-decreasing cost of mobile technology and efforts by non-profits to expand internet access across the globe, the possibility of delivering healthcare over a mobile phone is not only possible, it's inevitable. That means companies who provide health insurance benefits to their employees should begin to adopt more modern techniques and strategies to improve wellness, increase awareness, and help patients understand the importance of collecting and acting upon vital medical data captured by these modern devices.