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Healthcare, Wearables, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution


How wearable devices (and the data they churn out) could revolutionize medicine.

A new age has arrived, bringing us novel, exciting, and sometimes scary things to explore, work around, and live with.

Late in the 18th century, the world began to industrialize. It all started with the dawn of steam power and the power loom. These innovations drove growth in the coal, iron, textile, and railroad industries, completely changing the way goods were manufactured. The second industrial revolution, starting late in the 19th century, brought the expansion of petroleum, steel, and electricity, again toppling business models and society at large. In 1970, computing-powered automation gave us the ability to program networks and machines—the third industrial revolution.

Now, almost 50 years later, we cannot imagine life or business without any of these advances made in our past. They are our normal and provide us with an easier and wealthier life. However, our continued drive to innovate does not end here. Today, we are experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. The combined power of physical and digital technologies through artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies, analytics, and the internet of things (IoT), create a digital society, with digital enterprises where the interconnection and more informed decision-making are revolutionizing the way people work and live.

Healthcare is an industry where the impact of this fourth revolution will be massive. The conservative sector is currently composed of traditional, quantity-related business models. These traditional models—the outdated systems and the limited interaction between them, including health, wellness, and government organizations—result in high costs and poor patient and user satisfaction. These models also place constraints on the value output of care (e.g. fast and correct diagnosis).

One can only imagine what healthcare will look like 20 years from now. But I believe that that future most certainly involves wearables. Wearables are an essential part of an interconnected society, the outlook of our fourth industrial revolution.

Wearable technology consists of things that can be worn, such as clothing or glasses, that contain computer technology or can connect to the internet”- Cambridge Dictionary (2018)

Medical wearable devices have the possibility to track and/or store nearly everything. Where not so long ago, the market mainly featured wearables tracking once activity, we now see a continued increasing variety of options. There are wearables to measure sleep, vital signs, glucose levels, biomarkers such as electrolytes and proteins, and many other attributes. Besides measuring and tracking, devices like Google Glass provide additional tools such as data access, live stream options, and education. The possibilities are endless.

Researchers have found that consumers believe (PDF) wearables could drastically improve their health. For healthcare organizations, health wearables have the potential to decrease cost and improve care through remote patient monitoring, immediate access to data, faster diagnostics, and even preventative measures. Pharmaceuticals and life sciences companies could benefit through better data collection for outcome-based reimbursement and more efficient selection to run robust clinical trials. Finally, government organizations, employers, and insurance companies can benefit from the large amounts of generated data and use wearables and their software to better manage wellness, health, and healthcare cost.

Knowing the above, it cannot be surprising to learn that the wearable technology market is a strong growth market. The market is expected to grow with a CAGR of 15.51%, between 2016 and 2022, to reach an astonishing market value of $51.6 billion in 2022. The medical wearable device market has an even stronger CAGR of 18.3% between 2017 and 2022, leading to a market value of $14.41 billion in 2022, compared to $6.22 billion in 2017. North America accounts for the largest market share, followed by Europe.

Despite these strong growth forecasts, there are still some issues holding back this fourth industrial revolution in healthcare. Current healthcare systems are not equipped to work with the massive amounts of data generated by these devices. To capture the full opportunity wearables bring us, it is key that data can be shared among different care providers and that the analysis of big data is provided in a well-structured and well-organized manner.

Privacy and security with regard to wearables are big concerns and need to be well taken care of. Additionally, behavioral change, education, and training for these new technologies are key for successful implementation and sustainability. Therefore, long-term business strategies need to be made as to create new added value and industry change.

Wearables bring potential and endless opportunities. This is truly exciting for medical professionals, clinicians, researchers, healthcare providers, payers, related stakeholders, and, above all, patients. I’m certain that wearables will make their mark on the healthcare delivery of the future. Together with the fourth industrial revolution, they will create a new health economy. Here, the interconnectivity of care stands central.

Wearable devices will further interact with their users, supplying them with constant knowledge regarding their health and well-being. So, as the line between the physical and digital worlds blurs, not knowing where to go or who to contact for care will be ancient history. In this new world, we are one with our technology, working with, living with, and wearing it. Isn’t it time for healthcare leaders to begin imagining and planning for this revolution?

A regular Healthcare Analytics News™ columnist, João Bocas is a wearables expert, a top 100 global digital health influencer, and keynote speaker. He possesses more than 25 years of hands-on experience in professional sport and corporate environments, working with senior management, boards and executive teams. He has worked in healthcare, financial services, media, sporting, and third and public-sector organizations.

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