As wearable health and wellness technology begins to flood the market, could consumers rely too heavily on these devices and apps to make decisions about the state of their own health care without consulting a doctor?
Yes and No.
Yes, because consumers could conclude false assumptions based on health data that they don’t fully comprehend.
And, no, because sensors in wearable devices—such as fitness trackers—are encouraging individuals to live healthier lifestyles by gamifying the experience.
The experiences that wearables are creating for individuals is a positive trend and one that we only see growing. Rumors swirl around Apple’s highly anticipated launch of iWatch and the introduction of its first health and fitness-tracking app, Healthbook. Google is also making strides in collecting data about our health through search trends and the recently announced Android Wear. This will only increase Google’s health-related data consumption.
The global market for wearable medical devices is estimated to hit $5.8 billion in 2019, up from $2 billion in 2012, according to a report from Transparency Market Research.
Health data collected from wearables is useless unless you know how to interpret the results. Data gathered from wearable devices that is shared with your doctor through an opt-in, real-time secure connection is what we are calling “intelligent data.” This is data gathered from smart devices, and then shared with your doctor in real-time before being added to your patient profile. Unlike a visit to the doctor today, during which a patient is able to provide only a slim snapshot of his or her current medical condition, “intelligent data” provides a complete beginning-to-end medical profile. This provides a more holistic picture of an illness for the doctor to consider when making a diagnosis.
Doctors of the future will act as interpreters of the data gathered from wearable devices and new technological breakthroughs. Doctors will then be able to help guide patients through the process of making intelligent decisions based on the data gathered from their wearable devices combined with their medical history. Data collected from wearable devices will not be enough to make serious medical decisions. There has to be a marriage between data and clinical judgment.
In the future, using intelligent data, doctors will be able to forecast the likelihood of a patient—both in the developed and developing worlds—acquiring a specific disease by mining anonymized data gathered from wearable devices and comparing it against a patient’s medical history. The foundation for this process is currently in place, as the World Health Organization and others have researched and developed models to predict infectious disease outbreaks using data mining techniques.
With the introduction of free Wi-Fi, like we’ve seen on select City Buses in Nairobi, Kenya, reliable Internet access is starting to grow in developing nations. As more developing nations come online, the anonymized data gathered from wearable devices will give doctors around the world a better glimpse into global health trends based on location, age and gender.
A fast Internet connection, combined with Google Glass, one of the industry’s most talked-about wearables, will allow doctors to broadcast surgeries in real-time to specialists around the world. These remote doctors will be able to walk the local doctor through a procedure that was once only possible in an industrial nation. “Google Glass has some clear utility in the clinical setting, and foreseeably a great potential to favorably impact medical and surgical practitioners in their daily activities,” say the authors of a report in the International Journal of Surgery.
Rise of the ‘Instant On’ Doctor
In the current medical system, a lab orders a test and has the results a few hours or several days later. Soon after, the patient is contacted and a treatment plan of action is designed. It’s estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all clinical decisions are driven by lab tests. In the very near future, data will be streamlined and patients may expect an immediate response. But not all data is vital and not all data should be acted on immediately. The data must be “intelligent” and the action must make clinical sense.
While wearable technology will give consumers new insights into their health, patients must exercise caution before jumping to conclusions and allow doctors time to work as they sift through a patient’s complete medical data stream.
How consumers adapt to these changing trends in technology will ultimately depend on the adoption rate of the marketplace and the trust they place in the system providing doctors with instant access to their medical condition. Only then will doctors be able to adapt, understand, and embrace the long-term positive health implications that wearable technologies will have in a changing global health environment.
Dr. Peter D. Weiss, M.D., F.A.C.O.G is the Co-Founder of the Rodeo Drive Woman’s Health Clinicand a former National Health Care Adviser to Senator John McCain’s Presidential Campaign in 2008. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor of OB/GYN at UCLA School of Medicine.
Grayson Brulte is the Co-Founder & President of Brulte & Company.