Enabling Clinical-Grade Health Management Devices

WaqaasAl-Siddiq-200Wearables 2.0: How Technology Advancements Will Enable Clinical-Grade Health Management Devices
By Waqaas Al-Siddiq, CEO and Founder of Biotricity Inc.
Twitter: @biotricity_inc

Today’s increasingly fast paced world keeps us struggling to meet our daily health and wellness objectives. The pressures and stresses associated with a competitive lifestyle, coupled with convenient and often unhealthy eating choices, pose a myriad of problems that far surpass what previous generations have experienced. At the same time, there is an increase in awareness on the short and long-term effects of unhealthy lifestyle habits which has resulted in a collective effort to make better living choices.

So while a large majority of individuals aim to prioritize their health, busy lifestyles make it difficult to seek medical advice in a timely manner. Due to these challenges, many of us look to the Web to self-diagnose and self-manage our health with minimal interaction and input from doctors and healthcare practitioners. While this may seem like a practical solution for alleviating rising healthcare costs, it actually has the opposite effect. This is because individuals tend to delay diagnosis and treatment of conditions based on incomplete information which leads to additional risk. The problem itself is dichotomous; an increased consciousness to prioritize our health vs. the lack of time and/or willingness to seek professional opinion and treatment.

Why Wearables 1.0 Failed to Meet the Mark
Health technology and fitness companies have attempted to address the time and treatment discrepancy through the development of solutions that allow for the self-management of vitals and other health metrics. The past few years have seen a rise in the development of wearable technology, particularly in the realms of health and fitness tracking. Equipped with sensors, these wearable devices are used to monitor and measure heart rate activity, pulse rate, metabolic rate, calories and more.

[tweet_box design=”box_09″ float=”right” width=”40%”]#Wearables 2.0 will realize the promise of clinical grade self-management @biotricity_Inc[/tweet_box]

Wearables began as a way to measure consumer fitness and track bio-related stats. Yet the greatest potential lies in addressing pressing healthcare problems related to remote and continuous patient monitoring for those with chronic illnesses, and accessibility for individuals who lack the means to transport themselves to a healthcare facility. Although the potential exists, the market is still evolving with pundits predicting the entire wearable technology market will gross almost $2 billion in revenues by the end of 2016.

While the differences and purposes of wearable fitness trackers vs. other health technology wearables may be well defined on paper, in reality there is a fine line that exists between both. In fact, many wearable fitness companies are branding and marketing their products in a way that suggests that the metrics used and its results are accurate and medically relevant. But this is not the case. In fact, a well-known wearable fitness device manufacturer Fitbit, Inc., is being sued in a nationwide class action lawsuit. This is because Fitbit Charge HR and Surge Heart Rate Monitors allegedly do not — and cannot — consistently record accurate heart rates during intense physical activity for which Fitbit expressly markets the devices in widespread advertising. Instead of detecting actual heartbeats, the device uses LEDs that reflect onto the skin to detect changes in blood volume to measure heart rate. Users claim that this method of detecting and recording heartbeats provides inaccurate results and does not give insight into real-time heart rates. Some users have gone so far as to take their results to their doctor and/or trainer who have confirmed that discrepancies exist between the rates shown on their devices and their actual heart rates. While the claims and legalities are up for debate, this case brings up important questions on the danger of relying on misleading advertising claims and statements and the potential effects on users’ health.

So while individuals continue to be in favor of technology that allows them to self-manage their chronic conditions and proactively manage and monitor their health, the devices widely available today are delivering inaccurate readings of essential vitals. This gives users a false sense of security that their health is fine, which may cause patients to delay seeking advice or treatment from a medical practitioner or miss important signs that could indicate an issue that may require immediate attention.

Apart from the issue of reliability and accuracy, doctors and other health practitioners find it difficult to decipher data from existing wearable devices. Patients often go to doctors with statistics collected from their wearables and ask for a clinical interpretation. However, the statistics are often medically meaningless, non-specific and vague, and ultimately do not provide medical professionals with any real insight on actual symptoms or conditions that are present in the patient.

Wearables 2.0: Realizing the Promise of Clinical Grade Self-Management
In order to bridge the gap between the overwhelming demand by patients with chronic disease and the inability of our available healthcare system to supply this need, health technology and fitness companies must look at ways to innovate and address the current gap left by the current generation of health/fitness wearable devices. What is clearly missing is the ability to provide medically relevant, clinical-grade data and statistics. Next generation wearables must prioritize the transmission of clinical grade data that is scientifically accurate and reliable, coupled with technology that enables an optimal user experience. In fact, a national survey of 1,000 respondents found that nearly 9 out of 10 consumers (88 percent) believe that working in partnership with their healthcare professional will help improve their overall health and 78 percent would be more inclined to use a personal monitoring device if it were clinically accurate and easy to use. So while individuals are poised and ready to share in on their ongoing health management, the next generation of wearables must have the ability to make more of an impact on the day-to-day living of patients through the relay of clinical feedback. By incorporating medically relevant, clinical-grade data into wearable solutions, problems related to both accuracy and reliability are eliminated and the devices can be seamlessly integrated into the world of medicine.

Newer wearables must also enable users to self-manage their health and conditions and/or reach their health and fitness goals. Most existing wearables rely on numbers or a score system that are supposed to indicate the user’s overall health. In reality, how medically meaningful is this score? The fact is that these are just mere numbers with no tangible value in the medical world. If wearables are going to aid in disease management, then their numbers need to make medical sense. Similar to blood glucose monitors that provide readings with actual clinical value so a diabetic is able to understand and self-manage their condition. The optimal solution will be to base the score from wearables on medical-grade data so that accurate and meaningful information may be relayed to both the user and health practitioner.

As the number of people being diagnosed with chronic illnesses continues to increase exponentially, clinically accurate monitoring devices can provide a much needed solution to improve outcomes. In fact, healthcare continues to emphasize preventive care in an effort to mitigate the rising demand of the chronically ill on the current system. However, traditional methods are failing to ensure that these patients comply with their physicians’ medical directives such as: medication adherence, changes to diet, changes to lifestyle and exercise.

Integrating medically relevant data with wearables will most certainly drive patient compliance. According to the previously mentioned survey, an overwhelming majority of individuals (85 percent) said it would be both valuable and useful to track their own health data and share it with their healthcare profession between visits in order to better manage their wellness. Wearables 2.0 will further drive patient compliance by enabling the individual to have more autonomy in the management of their health. These next generation wearables will also address compliance by enabling the patient to manage and measure their improvements between doctor’s visits. In many circumstances, the doctor gives out certain recommendations for the patient to follow in order to improve the outcome of the condition or ailment. However, in order to assess improvement, the patient must visit the doctor again. By incorporating metrics into wearables that directly measure clinical improvement, doctors have an opportunity to speed up the course of action and reduce the often cumbersome cycle of disease management.

Few companies have been able to pre-empt this issue and develop wearables that record and transmit medically relevant, clinical-grade data to create an effective user-focused experience. However, the tides are changing as technology advancements are catching up with consumer demand and physicians’ desire to have patients take a proactive and accountable role in their overall health. Chronic illness such as heart disease has created an increasing burden to worldwide healthcare infrastructures, and preventive care is now recognized as a vital component of any comprehensive healthcare service. The future lies with empowering individuals through powerful, self-management solutions, which is something Americans are eager to use to manage their personal health issues. As the healthcare system continues to make preventative medicine mainstream, the trajectory should be to encourage the development of clinically-accurate monitoring devices for chronic disease management. This will ultimately lead to subsidized solutions and insurance-reimbursable wearables.