The controversy over the gap in funding for the NHS is seldom out of the news. Most recently, reports suggest that tax payers will have to cough up around £2000 extra per year to bridge the gap. Indeed, a Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions report claims that in the UK, the health care funding gap is set to reach £30bn for 2020-2021. Many put this down to an ageing population, which according to Frost & Sullivan* is projected to grow from an estimated 524m to nearly 1.5bn in 2050 (people aged 65 or older), and in some cases, an unhealthy lifestyle which is overburdening the NHS. So, perhaps the wearables market can have a positive effect in both technology and healthcare sectors.
Wearables come in many different guises and from a healthcare perspective there is a distinction between fitness wearables and medical wearables. The former represents those most purchased freely by consumers such as smart wristbands, watches, clothing and even cosmetic accessories that can track fitness related metrics such as distance covered, calories consumed, and in some cases heart beat and sleep quality. The latter offer more clinical applications such as sensors that check blood pressure, sugar levels for diabetics, muscular activity and other patient monitoring devices that can help patients with more chronic illness.
There are conflicting reports about whether fitness trackers actually provide sustainable benefits with evidence that they often lose their appeal after 12-16 weeks. However, with the World Health Organisation maintaining that a lack of regular exercise increases the risk of mortality by 20-30% even a basic wearable device could have a positive impact. Indeed, that’s highlighted in Gartner’s “Predicts2018: Personal Devices” report which points to the fact that growing numbers of users are actively changing their behaviour for the better with the adoption of a wearable device. Certainly, exercise and healthy eating can alleviate the problems from obesity which has a knock-on effect for healthcare practitioners.
At a minimum, wearables are improving overall awareness of fitness and activity, but the technology has much more to offer. Wearables can go beyond fashion and trend and actually address more serious conditions. There has been an increase in the use of specific healthcare monitoring using medical grade devices that can help treat or minimise the risk of more serious conditions. These can help with disease detection and prevention, and in some instances, alerting a doctor to a change in a patient’s condition. Conditions like epilepsy, heart problems and Alzheimer are examples of where medical devices have been deployed. Using these sensor devices can often free up time spent in hospital or the time taken for doctor visits by remotely monitoring a patient’s condition. In addition, as the technology develops, devices that can reduce the need for physically visiting doctors for more common diagnostic procedures will become more commonplace.
Real-time data tracking of patients has significant benefits for both the patient and the medical profession by collecting data that can lead to a better understanding of the condition. Data analytics will play a key role in the future. Certainly, the healthcare industry is making more use of smart wearable technologies with the opportunity to change the way patients and doctors interact, share information and make decisions on patient care. The global market for medical wearable devices is estimated to reach £3.2bn by 2020. However, the saving it could make to the healthcare sector could equally run into £bn’s. As user acceptability of these devices increase and security concerns reduce, the way our health is monitored could significantly change. Technology that engages patients and helps them manage their own healthcare could make a significant difference. That’s good news for both sectors.
*Social Innovation in Healthcare report