Wearables are bringing medical care out of the doctor’s office and into all aspects of patients’ lives. Their increase in popularity is causing companies to evaluate how they can thrive in a new patient-oriented marketplace.When the FDA starts taking input from patients, you know that times are certainly changing. In September of this year, the Food and Drug Administration announced the formation of a Patient Engagement Advisory Committee, which will use patient feedback to inform decisions on whether to approve new medical devices and policies.Traditionally, these kinds of decisions have been made without considering the opinions of the patients they affect, focusing instead on the opinions of doctors and bureaucrats. But the call for doctor-patient collaboration marks a trend that has been building for years. The digital health market has seen rapid growth in the current decade, and patients are taking their health into their own hands with gusto. What does this mean for the healthcare industry at large, and what role will tech companies play in this new health-conscious world?
Fitbits, Jawbone Ups, and Apple Watches are putting more advanced health metrics in the hands, wrists, and sleeves of consumers. And the world of health wearables isn’t reserved for tech anymore -- in January, Swarovski and Misfit announced their partnership to develop a bejeweled health tracker, officially bringing health trackers into the world of high-fashion.While wrist-devices are taking off in popularity now, health wearables will only get more diverse. In 2014, Google announced the development of a smart contact lens that can monitor glucose levels. For diabetics, this new tech would mean the end of non-stop finger pricking to measure blood-sugar. Tech firms like Withings and AliveCor are selling wireless blood pressure monitors and portable EKGs respectively, both of which work with a smartphone.
This developing, diverse wearable market is working in tandem with another digital health trend: Telehealth, which is working to improve patient health and reduce expenses. The Department of Veterans Administration has used a combination of in-home monitoring technology and teleconferences to save roughly $2,000 per patient since 2013.Indeed, the market for Telehealth is booming, as companies like Doctor On Demand, Pager, and Caring in Place make accessing health care from home even easier. CEO and co-founder of Caring in Place Josh Fotheringham says, “Hospitals and other institutions benefit when some of the costs of home monitoring moves to family and caregivers, but these caregivers need technology to take on that role appropriately.”
The home healthcare market consists of six distinct segments: independent living services, consumer medical devices, Telehealth, personal emergency response systems (PERS), wearable technologies, and health gaming. While some technology like PERS has been around for decades (LifeAlert being the most popular), others are just starting to take off, including the portable, smartphone-compatible ECG monitor AliveCor.As the FDA blurs the lines between patient and developer, we can expect to see even more medical devices that will change the way we see health and healthcare. In order to stay ahead of the curve, hospitals, healthcare providers, and health insurance companies need to identify ways in which today’s new digital tools can help them better serve their patients. Whether they’re best served by focusing on consumer wearables, providing a robust Telehealth option, or improving home health monitoring, each organization will need a strong team to evaluate current needs and future potential.The FDA’s commitment to the new, patient-facing medical market is an opportunity for brands to create devices that truly meet consumer needs. Companies now face the challenge of developing even more powerful tools that are just as useful in the hands of the average consumer as they are in those of trained medical professionals.