While wearable technology is quickly emerging as the new “it” thing in the tech world, we have barely begun to unlock its potential. By 2020 it is estimated that there will be more than 200 million wearable devices in use, each collecting troves of data. But it’s only after consumers fully appreciate how that data can improve virtually every facet of our lives -- including how healthcare is delivered and paid for -- will wearables truly take their place as the next transformative technology.
Data is the most powerful tool the world has ever known. It is creating jobs, growing the economy, and making our lives healthier, more convenient, and more prosperous. To paraphrase a political slogan: ‘it’s the data, stupid.’
Unfortunately, much of the data these wildly popular devices collect is gathering dust, never unlocked to its robust potential. The diet, exercise, and sleep data that users find so valuable, could also prevent significant health events and lower medical costs if people were aware of data’s possibilities. The key is turning that data into information, information to insights and insights ultimately into action. While data itself is critical and is a first step -- it is only a first step.
While 78% of Americans are willing to use wearables to manage health - they aren't. Whether intentionally or as a simple oversight, Americans aren’t sharing their data with other critical parties, specifically, their doctors and insurance providers. This is partly because the parties have not yet made inroads to empower users collect their data, and also because consumers are not yet educated on the potential benefits data sharing would create.
Rising healthcare costs are top of mind for nearly every American, and have been for a long time. A quick trip to the hospital can saddle a patient with bills for years. But what if users were aware that wearable data could make them healthier? What if, instead of collecting dust, they shared their data with their doctor? Sharing wearable data with a doctor could provide untold benefits for the user, even signaling the onset of significant health events. Early warnings, like what data and wearables could provide, might mean a user seeks preventative care, which studies have shown to be cheaper, and most importantly, more effective.
A small number of doctors and patients are already employing wearables to transform healthcare. Thanks to remote patient monitoring, patients who would have had to recover in a hospital for long periods of time can now do so in the comfort of their own home while doctors monitor their conditions in real time at medical facilities.
Just as important, health insurance companies can use wearable data to help tailor specific plans for specific customers. For instance, armed with more information, insurance providers could offer lower premiums if they were able to determine which of its customers exercised regularly, got eight hours of sleep each night, and ate a healthy diet.
We started our company, Strap, in 2014 with a single goal in mind: to help people make sense of the data coming from a growing number of wearable and digital health devices. Steps or caloric intake are interesting data points, but they alone do not scratch the surface of the many untapped benefits wearables could be delivering. Only after the public embraces data and entrusts their doctors and insurance providers to provide actionable insights with it will wearables truly revolutionize healthcare.
The advent of big data in today’s connected world has raised legitimate questions regarding how data is used and who has access to it. Given these concerns, it’s incumbent on companies and software developers to continue to be good data stewards as they comply with existing privacy regulations, and that they work closely with policymakers to ensure that consumer data is used and protected in a manner that ensures the highest level of public confidence. At the same time, consumers need to be made aware of the potential benefits that reasonable data sharing can offer.
While wearables today offer users certain benefits, if expanded and employed appropriately, these devices and the data that power them, could fundamentally alter the healthcare landscape for all Americans. Working together, consumers, medical professionals, and insurance providers can make this a reality.
Patrick Henshaw is the Co-Founder of Strap. Strap's HIPAA compliant mHealth analytics platform enables actionable insights from a growing list of wearables and health apps find out more at https://www.straphq.com/
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