Over 90% of the world’s population has some type of mobile phone, according to reports from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union and PEW research. mHealth will continue to be a major factor in technology and health in 2015, with new apps that connect patients to physicians for real-time monitoring of heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and blood sugar, weight, body temperature, asthma, and more. Most of these apps either cost under $5.00 or are free. There will be expanded use of SMS (Short Message Systems) to send health information tips and reminders to patients throughout the world.
By far, among the most compelling innovations in 2015 will be the increased use of wearable technology — devices and clothing embedded with sensors that can track an individual’s activity, sleep, heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, weight, and more. From headsets that measure brainwaves to t-shirts, hats, smart shoes and socks, and special glasses, personal health monitoring has come of age. In 2014, the most popular wearables were the fitness trackers, including the popular FitBit.
In 2015, watches that not only track activity and sleep, but will monitor pulse, heart rate, blood pressure etc. will explode onto the market. These watches also include apps for email and text messaging, as well as games and other favorites. Topping the list is the Apple I-Watch, expected to be released during the first quarter.
Google Glass which is built on an open platform that encourages innovators and entrepreneurs to develop apps for Glass, has already made a difference. With Glass, there are physicians who are accessing patients’ digital health records, medication and allergy lists and enabling them to have full information in real time, right in the ICU, ER and the OR.
A recently announced Glass app is Project Iris, contact lenses that can read glucose levels, and collect that data for easy transmission directly to mobile phones and on to a provider or diabetes educator. This is a giant leap in tracking blood sugar for people with diabetes.
Other Google Glass health apps include:
WatchMeTalk that provides live captioning to help the hearing-impaired in day-to-day conversations.
MedRef the first app for Google Glass with face recognition to help with patient data management.
DriveSafe4Glass that can detect when you are falling asleep and trigger an alert to wake you up. It can also direct you to the nearest rest area
Strava for Glass which helps bikers track their rides, while keeping hands on the handlebars.
All this is just beginning of innovative healthcare solutions coming from Glass developers.
Smart Medical Devices
Smart medical devices will also proliferate in 2015. Examples include the Orthomonitor™ by Kinematix, a wearable sensing device, that can be embedded in orthotics and prosthetics to help providers measure wear-time compliance and help patients with treatment of foot ulcers, stroke rehabilitation, and other mobility disorders, These smart devices are positioned to help control the cost of rehabilitation by providing patients with continuous guidance and feedback that enables them to manage their own care
Another smart medical device is the Scanadu Scout ™, a hand-held scanner that captures information about what is going on inside the body. You simply place the Scanadu Scout™ on your forehead for 10 seconds and it reads your vitals. This data is wirelessly displayed on your smartphone and can be communicated directly to your physician.
Patient Engagement remains a focus in 2015, as more patients work with their providers to take responsibility for their health, use technology tools to manage chronic conditions, and social networking to communicate with their peers. These patients will agitate the system until they gain access to their clinician’s note that are in their electronic health record, as the momentum builds for open notes and more information transparency.
Cost of Care
The soaring cost of care impacting Medicare, Medicaid and all payers due to aging boomers, patients with multiple chronic conditions and “dual eligible,” calls for creative care delivery models, and strict management of health care usage in 2015. Increasing patient demand for price transparency in the cost of procedures and treatments will put the system to the test. Innovation will be a high priority as health institutions seek to control costs while offering better service, in the quest for better outcomes, fewer admissions and readmissions.
Privacy will continue to be a sticking point, with many patients, wanting greater data access, while others worry about confidentiality of their health information. A groundswell among consumers in 2015 for better privacy protections will hopefully catalyze the HIT industry to finally develop better tools to handle the massive data sets that have been created, while insuring the confidentiality of an individual’s health information.
The ability for patients to connect with other individuals who are dealing with some of the same, or similar health issues, is a powerful draw. Over 40% of health consumers say that information they find on social media sites influences the way they deal with their health. Patients also report their approval of their healthcare providers using social media for information that may help with a diagnosis or treatment option. In other words, social media has gained recognition and importance in health care as one of the influencers that can assist with, and improve quality of care.
In 2015 social media’s influence will continue to grow as doctors involve themselves more fully. For example, there are physicians tracking their patient’s chronic care management on private, secure Facebook pages, reaching patients where they spend their time. Patients, particularly those under 40, are becoming more involved with social media sites to understand and manage their health issues, indicating significant changes for communication in health care going forward.
Retail/Urgent Care Centers and Physician “Extenders”
Physician “extenders” will become the first line of care for many patients, as doctors delegate tasks, monitor patients digitally and enter into risk based payment models. Estimates are that the number of retail clinics across the United States could reach 3,000 by the end of 2015. These care centers provide an option for basic health services, for many patients who would otherwise have to go to the ER for a non-emergency medical issue during times when their primary care team is not available.
Overall, 2015 should be an exciting year in health care with a sea change in patient-physician relationships, fostered by increasing availability and use of wireless health monitoring and management tools such as those described above. This will lead to more involved e-patients who help to manage their own care. It will encourage health care professionals to see the positive benefit to virtual encounters that help keep everyone on track. Hopefully, this will be the year when payers recognize the value, of digital communication and agree to reimburse for these technology tools in patient care, as they see results in more efficient care, more effective outcomes and greater economies of scale.