For the healthcare industry, cutting edge technology can serve to be an industry-disruptor. This has become especially true for one of the fastest growing health categories: wearable medical devices. Being able to track health goals, vital signs, even predict future health outcomes, has put these wearable devices on pace to transform the healthcare industry. And with revenues grossing in excess of $7 billion in 2018, healthcare experts expect the wearable healthcare and medical device market to be worth $27.49 billion by 2026.1 So, the question becomes, are these small and affordable devices giving consumers a viable alternative to traditional medical care? A recent Apple-funded research study may shed an unexpected light on the power that wearable medical devices can have for your patients.
Named the Apple Heart Study, researchers from Stanford University’s School of Medicine examined the predictive and medical diagnostic ability of these devices. Started in November 2017, the 18-month long study sought out to see if a mobile app that analyzes data from a heart-rate pulse sensor on the Apple Watch could identify heart irregularities. The specific heart irregularity in question was atrial fibrillation, a medical condition characterized by a rapid heartbeat that could signal and increase the underlying risk of developing stroke or heart failure.2 Though atrial fibrillation is the leading cause of heart attacks and hospitalizations in the United States, it often goes unnoticed as many people do not experience significant symptoms. The researchers tracked which participants received irregular pulse notifications from their Apple Watch and compared that with those who were actually diagnosed as having atrial fibrillation. The preliminary findings of this study are quite telling.
Though only a small percentage of those who participated had heart rate irregularities that warranted a notification, when the heart rate sensor did detect irregularities it was extremely accurate. In fact, when comparing the irregular pulse detection on the Apple Watch with electrocardiograph patch recordings, 84% of the time those patients who received the mobile app notification were experiencing atrial fibrillation.3 The level of accuracy of this wearable medical device is astounding and compelled more than half (57%) of participants who received irregular heart rate alerts to follow-up with their primary care doctor to pursue more comprehensive medical treatment. So, even if participants were not experiencing any noticeable or adverse symptoms, their Apple Watch was able to alert them to even small irregularities in their heart rate patterns in real-time.
So is this good or bad for the healthcare industry?
The possible implications of this study are overwhelming. With digital privacy on the rise, some users may be highly concerned that sensitive health information is now available to a large corporation such as Apple. Additionally, other companies may choose to advance their wearable devices in order to detect strokes as well as other health conditions which were previously undetectable without the help of a medical professional.
If a medical diagnosis can be made through a wrist watch, what does this mean for the healthcare industry? Though the potential negatives seem overwhelming, wearable medical devices may, in fact, be a nice supplement for patients. As the study found, a significant portion of participants were prompted to seek additional care as a result of their medical device alerting them to a health irregularity. It could be argued that had these patients not received these real-time alerts related to their health, they may not have sought out care or been aware that they had a medical condition.
In this way, wearable medical devices could be an effective indicator for alerting potential patients that they need to visit a healthcare specialist. The emerging capabilities of wearable technology may have the potential to drive business towards hospitals where otherwise the patient may not have sought treatment until it was too late.
With this being said, when patients are active in their health by having instant access to a diagnosis, they will become more engaged and feel empowered to know what areas may be of concern. However, this will also mean they will have the time and capacity to research the best doctor for their specific condition, which would undoubtedly increase the existing competition being driven by the revolutionary health consumerism trend.
Although there is not enough information yet to know for certain how this new development will affect the healthcare industry, it is safe to say that wearable tech should be taken very seriously by hospitals and healthcare companies.