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Pulling back the curtain on health care

Wearable health monitoring wants to move in with you.

23rd April 2015 |

Taking our relationship with wearable tech to the next step

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the phrase “in-home health monitoring”? I’m guessing it’s a phrase that starts with “I’ve fallen!” and ends with “And I can’t get up!” In fact, health monitoring has come a long way (and expanded its target user base immensely) since Life Alert linked senior citizens with medical dispatch services via a wearable pendant. This first-gen in-home system is still kicking today, claiming to “save a life from catastrophe every ten minutes.” (Their definition of “catastrophe” is anyone’s guess.)

Today, the watchword is “wearable”—and it’s come a long way from the clunky beige-pendant-with-panic-button tech of the early 1980s. The great multitude of people who are wearing health monitoring devices today are already actively engaged with their health—they’re setting goals, joining online communities, and game-ifying their health through friendly social-networking-based competitions.

Wearable health monitoring is projected to be a $32 billion market by 2019, and to continue to move beyond the “clip-ons-and-watches” space it currently occupies, eventually becoming integrated into our clothing, our contact lenses, even the pills we take.

Health monitoring devices are already covering the self-motivators. Home health monitoring has been aimed at the elderly and the disabled since its inception. The next step for health monitoring has to fall somewhere between the two—stepping back into the home to offer health monitoring and disease management support for chronic condition sufferers. This group, comprising patients with (among others) asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, accounts for between 70 and 80% of the billions spent each year on health care—and much of that spend can be attributed to inability to follow recommended care plans and medication non-compliance.

JunkDrawerEnter passive in-home health monitoring—the solution that asks (nearly) nothing of its users. As Robin Felder, a pathology professor at the University of Virginia, has said, “95 percent of home blood-pressure monitors eventually get stashed in a drawer because patients have to go out of their way to use the devices.” What could be less out-of-your-way than a virtual health assistant that “lives” in your home’s network and your mobile devices? One such “virtual assistant” is being developed by Next IT. Its program uses advanced speech technology, allowing the virtual assistant to do everything from remind a user it’s time for their insulin to alerting a “real person” if the data it gathers hints at a relapse or failure to adhere to a personalized care plan. It also enables secure data sharing, meaning that on the patient’s next “IRL” clinic visit, the doctor is already up to speed, and more time can be spent on solutions. By offering constant, goal-based support in an environment where the user is already comfortable, huge inroads into the cost of care around chronic conditions can be made. One recent study found that remote condition monitoring of patients with congestive heart failure led to an average of $90,000 in savings per study patient. This is a huge advance, not just for chronic condition patients and their doctors, but for hospital systems at large—consider the initial cost of implementing in-home monitoring weighed against new ACA penalties for patients who are readmitted after discharge.

This “home health IT” field is growing exponentially, just in time to support a generation of chronic-care patients who will be more comfortable interacting with innovative technologies and cloud-based solutions. Imagine a near future somewhat like the movie Her—but with Scarlett Johannsen’s operating system character functioning as a personal nurse rather than a love interest. As health care professionals and communicators, one of our tallest orders will be ensuring that the user experience these innovations offer are comforting without being invasive, and effective without losing sight of the very reall human beings this technology is designed to support.

It’s not 1984. It’s not HAL. And it’s not The Jetsons. But it is the future. And in the future, when you fall, there’s always going to be someone available to help you up. No beige pendant required.


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