United Benefit Advisors Insight and Analysis Blog

The Impact of Wearable Devices in the Healthcare Industry

By Kaycee Eaton, Assistant Population Health Strategist for Vital Incite, LHD Benefit Advisors, a UBA Partner Firm
  Dec 13, 2016 10:30:00 AM

UBA wellness white paperWearable fitness devices have been a hot topic in health and wellness for a few years now, but what kind of impact have wearables really had on improving health outcomes? Wearable fitness devices can be used to track physical activity, sleep, heart rate, and even provide on-screen workouts. They are most often paired with a smartphone or website to track and store data. There has been a lot of hype about the potential to promote positive health outcomes through using wearables, but a recent study suggests they may not be impacting health as expected.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in September that evaluated the theory that incorporating wearable technology into a weight loss program would yield greater weight loss results. The study was comprised of 471 participants, all following a low-calorie diet and engaging in regular physical activity and group counseling sessions. They also received telephone counseling sessions, text messages, and access to online study materials. After six months, participants were split into two groups. The control group continued a self-monitoring diet and physical activity program using a website to track physical activity. The other group received wearable devices with an accompanying website to track diet and physical activity. The results showed those using the wearable devices did not yield any more weight loss than those in the standard weight loss program; the wearable device group actually lost less weight over 24 months.

Although this study resulted in wearable devices not proving to drive outcomes for weight loss, it should not be concluded that wearable devices are not useful. Wearable devices have proven useful in helping the patient and clinician create a plan of care and track outcomes. Wearable devices are also helpful in providing real-time data and promoting self-management for chronic conditions. Self-monitoring blood glucose meters and blood pressure monitors have been around for a while, but with the ability for the data to automatically upload to a smartphone app or website, it can help drive health outcomes. These programs can provide instant feedback, track patterns, show progress, and can be easily shared with a health care provider. Wearables are likely more helpful when paired with other resources or tools such as a health coach, personal trainer, health care provider, wellness programs, social competitions, etc.

Clinical Use

In addition to integration into wellness programs, wearable devices are making their way into clinical settings and are being used to provide more objective data. Geisinger Orthopaedic Institute has started a research program using wearable activity devices to collect real-time data from patients. This data will be used to monitor patient activities along with subjective data collection. The data collected will be used to research what practices are best for recovery and to improve decision-making and health outcomes.

Future

What’s next for wearable devices in health care?

Several technology companies are revealing new wearables that could be used in patient care. Earlier in 2016, Philips introduced a wearable biosensor that would continuously measure vitals such as heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature, posture, physical activity, and a single-lead ECG. This biosensor would be connected to software that would send notifications to the clinician or caregiver, which could help with early detection and intervention to improve patient outcomes.

The Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University is conducting a research project called Project HoneyBee. Project HoneyBee is researching how and which wearable biosensors can be used to drive better patient outcomes while reducing health care costs. This project is aiming to validate biosensors as an inexpensive technology that can be useful in a clinical setting and for reducing the costs of chronic disease. Some disease areas already being studied include heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), atrial fibrillation, and diabetes.

Although it is evident more research is needed to determine the best way to incorporate wearables into health care to drive better outcomes, many still believe there is a lot of potential and companies are continuing to research and develop new products.

Resources

Wearing Wellness on Your Sleeve: How Wearable Tech Is Changing Healthcare Services, Northwestern University School of Professional Studies blog, March 21, 2016

Geisinger orthopaedics chooses OBERD to collect patient data from wearable devices, Jan. 13, 2016

Project HoneyBee

Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial, JAMA, Sept. 20, 2016

 

Download our free (no form!) special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” for more information on wellness components trending among employers, especially the increase in telephonic coaching and the decrease in the use of health risk assessments.

For complete health plan design and cost trends by industry, region and group size, download UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary.

For comprehensive information on designing wellness programs that create lasting change, download UBA’s whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization”.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way

Topics: wellness, LHD Benefit Advisors, UBA Health Plan Survey, Vital Incite, wearable fitness devices, weight loss program, wellness monitoring, Kaycee Eaton