What are wearables?
Wearables are defined as electronic devices worn on the body or clothing that have the ability to monitor a wearer's vitals without requiring extensive patient action. Within the cardiovascular space, wearables have two main functions: patient disease identification and remote patient monitoring.
Wearables as diagnostic tools
The potential for wearables to improve early identification of disease could lead to improved patient outcomes, reduced emergent visits, and lower total cost of care. As an example, the latest Apple Watch has the capability to act as a mobile EKG and detect atrial fibrillation (AFib) based on the user's heart rate. In addition to improving early detection, wearables used as diagnostic tools may also serve as another forum for patient engagement, which appeals to administrators hoping to capture more patients and expand market share.
However, significant obstacles may prevent wearables from achieving mainstream success as diagnostic tools. One of the primary concerns includes the reliability of data transmitted from wearables. For instance, researchers found that the Apple Watch reports a high rate of false positives for AFib identification. Not only can these false positives make patients worry unnecessarily, but they also create downstream congestion as patients come in for additional tests. Furthermore, expensive devices sold directly to consumers do not target patient populations who are most at risk of late detection and emergent visits, but rather those of higher socioeconomic status who tend to be more engaged and compliant.
Wearables as monitoring devices
While the emphasis in wearable technology is on disease diagnosis, these devices may also play an increasingly important role in disease management. By monitoring biometric data, wearables can provide information to providers about disease progression or patient recovery without in-person patient visits. Similar to implantable devices such as CardioMEMS, data from wearables can notify providers if patient condition deteriorates and expedite a more timely medical response, even before patients begin to experience symptoms. This will be particularly helpful for physicians caring for patients who live in outlying or remote areas.
The future of wearables
Although wearables represent a promising future for higher quality CV care delivery, they are still in the initial stages of development. When CV administrators evaluate potential investments in wearables, they should consider the needs of both their patient populations and providers. Moreover, systems will need to develop an IT infrastructure to ensure that data transmitted from wearables is actually used effectively to inflect improvement in patient care decisions. That said, as these devices become more sophisticated and reliable, they have the capacity to transform CV care as we know it.