The Revolution Will be Wearable

September 10, 2020


Over the past few years, we have seen the wearables market completely transform. It is hard to imagine that only about 5 or so years ago, step tracking was the main goal of health-related wearables. That market exploded with companies like FitBit rolling out all forms of motion trackers. At CES this year, we saw all matter of wearable devices from non-invasive glucose monitoring to smart socks, wearable vision assistance devices for the blind,  to smart pajamas. Some of the most buzzed about products (at a conference that notably also had flying cars) were health-related wearables.

It’s not just about the shiny new object. Even wrist-based wearables, which first launched in 1998, continue to evolve in functionality at a rapid pace. Most notably was the EKG feature rolled out by Apple. This past week Apple rolled out a symptoms tracker to monitor 39 different symptoms on Apple Watch and iPhone. Apple Research allows you to enroll in health studies right from your watch or phone.

If sales numbers are any indication there is no slowing down in this market – especially in a COVID-19
world where there is an elevated interest in health and wellbeing. In the first quarter of 2020 alone, Apple Watch shipments were up 20% reaching close to 14 million watches sold. Apple, Samsung and Huawei all saw triple digit increases in their wearables sales in Q4 2019.

The increase in sales and functionality enables people to have a deeper understanding of their own personal health. Currently there are over 40,000 health apps in the Apple store, including many geared towards clinical care, nursing care, patient experience and care at home. With all these new wearables, comes a mountain of health data that help to inform users as well as physicians to their patients’ behavior.

As Dr. Ivor Benjamin, Immediate Past President of the American Heart Association puts it, “Products that seek to provide deeper health insights, like the Apple Watch, have the potential to be significant in new clinical care models and shared decision making between people and their healthcare providers.”

Here are some of the more notable and interesting wearables:

Oura Rings are now worn by NBA players during the lockdown season in Florida. The Oura ring is able to take multiple readings from a wearer’s finger. It combines these readings into something it calls the Readiness score. Oura’s Readiness metric looks at both your sleep and activity rate over a two-week baseline period and measures four key factors: heart rate, heart rate variability, temperature and respiratory rate. 

The OrCam MyEye is a device we got to check out at CES and it works by attaching to any pair of glasses and can read text by leveraging a system of lasers. It can instantly read to you text from a book, smartphone screen or any other surface and even recognize faces.

Withings sells all matter of connected health devices including Bluetooth blood pressure cuffs, smart scales, sleep tracking mats, Bluetooth thermometers and more.  All of these devices connect to the Apple Health app and provide tons of data that a physician can use to monitor a patient remotely.

Image source: Apple

As Matthieu Letombe, CEO of Withings said in an interview with Protocol, “You spend 20 minutes every six months with your physician or your cardiologist: He has to make a decision, or a medication change based on one measurement. And then you go back home without someone to monitor you, without someone to motivate you, and then you go back six months later just to see you have the same results.”

In response to this, Withings is about to roll out their Med Pro product which is essentially an EMR platform for physicians to use that is populated with all the data from Withings smart health devices. This will allow doctors to monitor patients remotely – while still being HIPAA compliant.

This leads us to clinical applications for the new wave of wearable devices. Hospitals such as Ochsner, Geisinger, UVA and others have rolled out remote patient monitoring across a wide range of conditions from hypertension to pediatrics.

Image source: Apple

Ochsner has what they call the “O Bar” which is like an Apple store for health wearables, such as Bluetooth blood pressure cuffs and health monitoring apps for iOS devices.  Patients can have devices set up, take blood pressure readings at home, have it synced with their Apple watch, then the data is fed into the hospital’s MyChart EMR system.  Patients and physicians can both see blood pressure readings over time and actually act on it when needed immediately. 

As a result of the programs rolling out at hospitals, HCPs are saving extremely valuable time through remote monitoring. HCPs leveraging Epic MyChart apps for Apple Watch can be notified of patient test results and have a patient discharged immediately as opposed to the old way where it might be a few hours before they have access to a workstation and check the results. According to Business Insider, fifteen hours a week could be saved by doctors whose patients use wearable technology for remote monitoring.

In a world where hospital space is extremely limited in some areas this could be lifesaving. 

So, what should marketers do?

On the consumer side, with patients taking a more active interest in their personal health through increased usage of health wearables, there are limitless opportunities for a brand to develop their own app for their patients as well as research recruitment opportunities through Apple Research. Rather than trying to run ads for your brand, brands should focus on leveraging wearables as another touch point to help patients deal with the condition and help to make things easier for them.

As EHR systems that tie in wearable components become more widespread, developing a targeted campaign across EHR platforms with specific tailored messaging is essential to reach physicians on your brand’s target list. In fact, the top medical app is currently an EHR platform.

Right now the industry continues to evolve, so all opportunities for pharma/healthcare brands to leverage are still not established. However that offers an incredible opportunity for innovators who are ready to think big and act first.