Solving the Health Puzzle: Can Wearables Actually Disrupt the Health Industry

With consumers showing more interest in tracking everything from sleep patterns to blood pressure, it’s no surprise that wearables are gaining the lion’s share of attention in the digital health space. Even employers are providing wearables to staff as part of their benefits package.

There’s a glaring need in the health care industry to gain better insight into consumer health behaviors so insurance companies, care providers and even employers can drive healthier outcomes. Wearables – such as FitBit, Nike FuelBand and Garmin Vivofit – provide this real-time, individual data, so they are uniquely positioned to revolutionize how health programs are a managed and delivered. The problem is that insurers and providers don’t have the ability to ingest and interpret this data to create such programs.

Before wearables can really disrupt the health status quo, there are two particular challenges the industry must first address:

  1. Connectivity. Health and insurance providers need actionable data. Without a software interface that allows stakeholders to better understand consumer health data – in aggregate, anonymous form – wearables fall short of providing the actionable insights needed to create effective health benefits, care and incentives. For example, how does your health and related spending change if you log a certain number of steps in your FitBit?
  2. Accessibility. Wearables need to appeal to a diverse population and not just the health conscious or tech-savvy. Design, durability and ease-of-use need to be achieved for widespread adoption. It is important to factor in not only the twenty-something who runs on her lunch break and logs 10,000+ steps per day, but the senior citizen with hypertension and diabetes.

Below are three ways the health industry can make wearables more useful on a larger scale:

Leverage consumer engagement platforms: The majority of insurers and providers are simply not set up to capture and make sense of the data wearables provide. This is where consumer engagement platforms come in: they bring together data from every source that collects health information – whether that’s a wearable device, doctor charts, biometric screenings or HRA forms. From there, insurers and providers can examine and draw conclusions to create benefits, plans and incentives that will actually move the needle, while motivating consumers to use these platforms for these health and financial rewards. However, this also means that wearable companies need to make their API’s open. And even further, become truer partners and work with providers and insurers on initiatives like clinical studies to better understand efficacy.

Expand accessibility Health devices of any kind should fit seamlessly into a user’s life. It’s all about making it easy – more durable, longer battery life, more water-resistant. It should be better designed for the every-man and the everyday. Wearables will also gain popularity as the insights become smarter. For example, rather than simply counting the steps a person takes in a day, it would be more useful for consumers to know the specific distance they should walk to reach their doctor’s prescribed amount of daily activity.

Measure the Data to Outcomes: Finally, data consistency across all devices will allow the health industry to actually measure lifestyle data against health outcomes. To do this, we need a way to audit the data from these devices to ensure that it’s truly accurate and not falsified. As this is achieved, consumers, insurers and providers will be better able to answer questions like: If a person walks one mile per day, how does that lessen their need for certain medical services? And what does that mean in terms of cost savings for the insurer and the consumer?

Across the United States, we’re already seeing a trend of insurance companies and health care providers adopting consumer engagement technology, with wearables playing a vital role. But to truly disrupt the health care industry, the data from these devices must be more actionable so behaviors can be correlated to real results and cost savings.

Naimish Patel is VP Product Marketing at Audax Health. He can be reached at @naims88.

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