- Wearable technology incentivizes behavior that reduces hospital visits and readmissions due to poorly managed personal health—75% of users agree that wearables help them keep track of their health.
- Healthier corporate culture is shown to reduce employee turnover—employers who offer five or more well-being ‘best practices’ had an average turnover of 18%, compared to 29% for those that offer two or fewer.
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When consumers started spending more time at home during the pandemic, many started using wearable devices as a means to monitor their health and seek medical treatment.
According to Insider Intelligence, US consumers’ use of wearables increased from 9% to 33% in just four years.
We take a look at the key trends influencing the healthcare industry, and share which themes are expected to stick around post-pandemic.
Here are some key digital health stats to know:
Wearable Fitness Trackers
In Quantilope’s 2021 Consumer Electronics study of US wearable device owners, 63% of those polled used fitness trackers or smartwatches. This is a much larger group than those who owned more specialized wearables like sleep trackers or posture correctors, which have not been adopted as quickly.
The first forms of wearable fitness trackers were wristbands equipped with sensors to track a user’s physical activity and heart rate. Some of the earliest models, such as the FitBit Flex, were favored for their sleek look, their ability to track steps with five indicator lights, and their capacity to sync with a number of smartphone apps.
Fast forward a few years and more wearable fitness trackers have entered the market, thanks in large part to big tech players entering the space. According to IDC, Apple shipped 34.1% of wearables worldwide in 2020, far ahead of Samsung (9%) and Fitbit (2.9%).
Google appears to be investing in the wearable technology space as well, as they recently acquired Fitbit. According to an exclusive report by Insider, Google also reshuffled their talent to move all more employees over to their FitBit group, demonstrating that they, like Apple, see the potential for long term growth in this industry.
Smart Health Watches
Smart health watches are similar to standard wearable fitness trackers in that they offer exercise and health tracking benefits. But, smart watches also offer features that one would normally have on their mobile device, including notifications, messages, and phone calls.
While smart health watches were first known for more simple fitness uses like counting daily steps, recent advancements have made them more viable healthcare tools. The Apple Heart Study app gained popularity in 2017 for its capacity to monitor heart rhythm and alert users if they experience atrial fibrillation.
Apple’s Series 6 model released in 2020 came packed with a new blood oxygen saturation monitor, native sleep-tracking capabilities, a faster FDA-approved electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor, and upgraded heart health monitoring.
According to Insider Intelligence’s Smartwatch Users forecast shown below, the number of US smartwatch users grew from 42 million to 45.2 million users from 2020 to 2021, and this is expected to continue to grow to 51.9 million smartwatch users by 2024.
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Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors
According to a February 2021 poll conducted by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, the highest percentage of telehealth users are interested in monitoring chronic conditions, including high blood pressure. As wearables become more widely used for healthcare, blood pressure monitoring will become an even more sought after feature.
It’s estimated that one in four men and one in five women around the world have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can put them at a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension is usually detected through the use of a blood pressure cuff with pressure sensors that measure the strength it takes the blood to push on one’s arteries as it is pumped around the body.
However, medical personnel don’t always have the time or ability to monitor blood pressure over multiple readings. There are also a number of conditions that cause a person’s blood pressure to elevate and produce inaccurate readings. New wearable blood pressure monitors help to fill this gap, by allowing users to measure their blood pressure over longer periods and in different conditions, and to share this data with their physician.
Omron healthcare launched Heart Guide in 2019—the first wearable oscillometric blood pressure monitor. What makes this particular monitor stand out is that it can measure blood pressure as it tracks daily activities like steps, distance, and calories burned. This allows users to determine how their habits are impacting their blood sugar.
Wearable ECG Monitors
Among US adults who own and use a fitness tracker, smartwatch—or both— 59% have used these devices to track steps, while fewer tracked their workouts (42%) and measured their heart health (37%), per March 2021 data from Deloitte. Heart health monitoring devices will continue to gain popularity as more seniors embrace digital tools to track and treat chronic illnesses. While seniors generally have a reputation for being less tech-inclined, 60% of Medicare-eligible seniors say they’ve embraced technology more amid the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by healthinsurance.com.
Wearable ECG monitors use flashing LEDs to penetrate the skin, capture the flow of blood through sensors, and produce heart rate data. ECG monitoring first became popular through the Apple Watch, and is now used on other smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and the Fitbit Sense health watch.
What’s more, the Withings Move ECG smartwatch launched in 2019, making it simple for users to keep up with heart health and send data from ECG readings directly to their doctor. As insurers and companies start to see the positive impact of this technology on the health of consumers and the profitability of brands, the future of these types of wearables looks promising.
The development of AI-powered remote monitoring tools have allowed clinicians to keep track of patients’ health from afar in real-time. The increased need for medical personnel to implement RPM systems amid social distancing has made developers of RPM solutions appealing partners.
Boston-based Biofourmis has teamed up with clinical researchers in Hong Kong to connect with quarantined patients more quickly. Biofourmis deploys a biosensor to collect biological data and AI-based analytics, so that physicians can monitor patients and step in when necessary.
The necessity to start using biosensors could pave the way for increased adoption among healthcare pros and their patients moving forward. As cited in the 2019 Digital Health and Consumer Adoption Report conducted by Rock Health and Stanford Center of Digital Health, the number of US consumers using digital health-tracking went up from 33% to 44% from 2017 to 2019, and the number of US consumers who shared their health data with their doctor grew from 46% to 56% during this same time period.
Traditionally, biosensors were used to monitor a patient’s status. They have since become more broadly marketed for wellness and fitness applications. They can detect a specific molecule that is linked to a health condition, offering insight into any concerns so that users can act more quickly and prevent the progression of a disease.
Augusta University Medical Center showed that this wearable device registered an 89% reduction in patient deterioration into preventable cardiac or respiratory arrest. This demonstrates the ability wearables have to improve patient outcomes and possibly reduce staff workload.