Wearable Medical Technology Set To Take Off

Mobile health devices that monitor vital signs will become more standard, pushing market to $6 billion by 2016, says IMS Research.

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

September 4, 2012

3 Min Read

10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy

10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy

10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Mobile health devices that track vital signs are ready to take off, IMS Research predicts. According to a report on wearable technology, which includes devices such as glucose and heart monitors, the market was worth $2 billion in 2011 and will reach $6 billion by 2016. Correspondingly, 14 million wearable devices were shipped in 2011, and that number will likely rise to 171 million in 2016.

World Market for Wearable Technology--A Quantitative Market Assessment--2012 examines wearable electronic devices used in professional and consumer environments. IMS Research defines these devices as products that are worn on the user's body for an extended period of time and that contain advanced circuitry, wireless connectivity, and can process data.

According to the report, several shifts in the market will occur during the next four years that will increase demand for these products among patients as well as healthy individuals. As baby boomers age, they'll become a primary market for health devices such as blood pressure and glucose monitors that upload up-to-date information to caregivers.

Researchers also found that in 2011, glucose monitors accounted for most of the revenue in the health device segment of the market, reflecting the need for continuous data on blood glucose levels, particularly in Type I diabetes patients. The dominant wearable products in this category include continuous glucose monitors from Abbott and Medtronic.

[ There's almost no end to the amount of useful medical information available online. For seven valuable resources, see 7 Health Education Tools For Patients. ]

Activity monitors from Fitbit, Adidas miCoach, and Nike Fuelband are also popular with consumers, as are fitness and heart-rate monitors such as those from Garmin, Polar, and Suunto.

Wearable technology helps clinicians work more efficiently and extend care outside the hospital environment. When clinicians can collect information on patients anywhere and anytime, the increased knowledge can lead to earlier detection of problems, preventing readmission and resulting in better clinical outcomes, Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at IMS Research, said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

"This will decrease the cost of healthcare in the long run," Ahadome predicts. "However, these benefits will need to be clearly proven in order for providers to adopt them and for payers to pay for them."

Another consideration is the deluge of data that these devices generate. For payers and providers, while these devices give better insights on a patient's medical condition, more data brings greater risk of data breaches and more responsibility to implement tighter security and access controls.

In addition to tighter data security, Ahadome foresees a change in clinical workflow as providers seek to accommodate a new way of tracking patients' health.

"Physicians need this data to be integrated into their IT systems, and [they] will have to change their workflow to accept and use this external data," Ahadome said. "There will be internal resistance from physicians who are used to standard patient visits. In the long run, once these issues are dealt with, it will lead to greater competition in the hospital and payer markets as patients begin to seek out those health organizations that deploy extended systems of care incorporating wearable technology."

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)

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