Wearable sensors and connected devices are invaluable tools for the individual, whether that individual utilizes a medical device to help manage a chronic disease or is simply a consumer taking advantage of the latest fitness tech.
But the benefits of wearable sensors are not limited to the person wearing them. The massive amount of data collected by these devices has the potential to benefit entire populations and reduce healthcare costs across the globe.
Integrating wearable sensor data into population health management is a fairly new concept, but one that is likely to grow quickly as technology advances. MedTech companies looking to develop innovative software and devices have a unique opportunity to help this market advance and change the healthcare landscape for millions of people.
The Importance of Population Health Management
PHM is a healthcare approach that aims to improve the health outcomes and overall well-being of a defined group or population of individuals. This population can be large or small and contain individuals closely linked by common characteristics or those more loosely associated based on location, income, or age.
PHM addresses critical challenges and goals within the healthcare system.
Central to those goals is improving health outcomes by identifying at-risk individuals and providing targeted interventions. By proactively managing the health of populations and addressing issues before they become severe, PHM can help control healthcare spending, especially in the context of chronic disease management and preventive care.
One of the greatest accomplishments of PHM today is helping to identify areas of healthcare inequality and finding solutions to help improve outcomes for historically at-risk and marginalized populations. PHM promotes fairness and inclusivity in healthcare delivery, helping to ensure that all individuals, regardless of socioeconomic status or background, have equal access to quality care.
As our population continues to grow, healthcare spending and resource allocation will continue to become larger problems. PHM offers a sustainable approach to the large-scale management of healthcare resources and costs while improving the quality of care each individual receives.
Integrating Wearable Sensor Data into Population Health Management
Data plays a central role in Population Health Management by providing the necessary information to assess, monitor, and improve the health of populations. Traditionally, this data has come from Electronic Health Records, studies, and self-reported statistics.
Today, thanks in large part to wearable sensors and connected medical devices, we have access to more data than ever. The question now is how do we best put this data to use to better serve large populations and individuals.
What Kind of Data Is Valuable in Population Health Management?
The data used to assess, monitor, and improve the health of populations within PHM comes from a variety of sources, with the most valuable being:
- Clinical Data – Including Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and laboratory results.
- Demographic Data – Including age, gender, and ethnicity.
- Socioeconomic Data – Including income, education level, and housing conditions.
- Behavioral Data – Including lifestyle behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, and social determinants, such as employment and family support.
- Healthcare Utilization Data – Including claims data and hospital admissions.
- Environmental Data – Including air quality and climate data.
- Social and Community Data – including community resources and health programs.
- Genomic Data – Including genetic information and DNA sequencing.
- Patient Care Plans and Treatment Data – Including data on treatment adherence and outcomes.
- Population Health Analytics Data – including data generated by analytics and modeling tools.
- Public Health Data – including disease surveillance, vaccination rates, and epidemiological data
- Outcome Data – Including disease incidence, mortality rates, and quality of life.
Data Collection Methods
Traditionally, the bulk of the data used in PHM came from providers, insurance companies, public health agencies, and EHRs.
But with advancements in wearable technology and AI and machine learning, we now have the power to collect more raw data directly from individuals and analyze it in meaningful ways. The data from these wearables generally includes demographic information and behavioral data. Data from connected medical devices generally offers additional health insights, including clinical, treatment, and outcome data.
Most wearable devices in the commercial and medical fields are created for a singular purpose, such as to measure activity or monitor blood glucose. But the integration of these devices with connected smart applications has the power to provide even more information than what the wearable itself targets.
For instance, devices integrated with the Apple Health App, also have the potential to provide environmental data and location information that could be used to pull community, social, and public health data.
That is to say, innovative, integrated wearables have the power to provide much of the data currently used to analyze population health statistics.
Data Integration and Analysis
Data is a key component of PHM but it is nothing without the tools to integrate and analyze that data to create meaningful insights to improve public health.
This integration and analysis requires a combination of skilled professionals, data management technologies, and analytics tools. Collaboration among data scientists, healthcare informaticians, clinicians, and IT experts is essential to ensure the success of PHM initiatives. The insights gained from data analysis drive evidence-based decision-making and support the delivery of more effective and efficient healthcare services to populations.
Advancements in AI have led to less human involvement in data analysis while allowing for the integration of more data than ever before. The PHM market is hungry for highly capable, innovative software that can capitalize on advancements in machine learning to provide data insights to healthcare providers, public health officials, and individuals.
Wearables have been used widely in trial studies for drugs and medical devices. These same studies provide a wealth of data that can be extrapolated and used in the context of Public Health Management.
The most valuable connected devices in gathering data for this application, at the moment, are fitness trackers and accelerometer sensors. Advanced products in this market have the ability to collect a wide range of data, including activity, heart rate, skin temperature, location information, and sleep data.
The data gathered from these simple devices has been used to predict population health outcomes and trends for everything from COVID-19 to heart-related illness and fertility. One author researching the use of wearable data noted that studies in this field indicate “that big data extracted from wearables may potentially transform the understanding of population health dynamics and the ability to forecast health trends”(1).
But data from wearables currently available on the market also has limitations. Many of these consumer products and even some medical device wearables are prohibitively expensive. This naturally discounts data from less advantaged populations and skews results in favor of individuals more likely to use fitness trackers and other popular connected tech.
Future Trends and Opportunities
Overcoming the shortcomings of data collection in the current wearables market presents unique opportunities for MedTech companies developing connected devices for the consumer and medical fields. By creating innovative devices with advanced sensors that take advantage of growth in 5G, IoT, and AI, developers can ensure their product contributes to the furtherment of PHM and better healthcare outcomes for populations around the globe.
Miniaturization and Form Factors
As wearable devices continue to evolve and become more compact, lightweight, and unobtrusive, they offer numerous advantages for both healthcare providers and patients.
Miniaturization allows for greater comfort and wearability, encouraging individuals to integrate these devices into their daily lives. Smaller form factors reduce the physical footprint of wearables, making them less conspicuous and more socially acceptable, which can lead to higher patient compliance and engagement.
Miniaturization enables wearables to collect data discreetly, fostering long-term data acquisition and enhancing the accuracy and depth of health information gathered. This, in turn, facilitates more precise risk stratification, personalized interventions, and real-time monitoring, all of which are integral to the success of PHM programs.
Advanced Sensors and Biosensors
Advanced sensors, such as optical heart rate monitors, accelerometers, and environmental sensors, provide a multifaceted view of an individual’s health. They can track factors like physical activity, vital signs, and exposure to environmental conditions. Biosensors, on the other hand, can measure specific biological markers like glucose levels, electrolytes, and lactate, allowing for the monitoring of chronic conditions and early disease detection.
The combination of advanced sensors and biosensors in wearables not only enhances the depth and breadth of data collected but also supports the development of predictive algorithms and personalized interventions. This, in turn, enables healthcare providers to offer targeted guidance and interventions to improve individual and population health outcomes. The integration of advanced sensors and biosensors in wearable devices represents a pivotal advancement in the PHM landscape, fostering a more data-driven and patient-centric approach to healthcare.
The Role of 5G and IoT
5G’s ultra-fast, low-latency connectivity and IoT’s network of interconnected devices create a robust ecosystem for wearable technology. This synergy enables wearable devices to transmit data seamlessly in real time, facilitating instant data exchange between the devices and healthcare providers’ systems.
The high bandwidth and low latency of 5G allow for the efficient transfer of large volumes of health data, including high-resolution medical images and continuous streaming of health-related information. Wearables equipped with 5G connectivity can transmit data to healthcare professionals and PHM platforms swiftly, enabling timely interventions and personalized care plans.
IoT connectivity ensures that wearables are seamlessly integrated into the broader healthcare ecosystem. Wearables can sync with EHR systems, clinical databases, and analytics tools, enabling healthcare providers to access comprehensive patient profiles and make informed decisions. Real-time data streaming from wearables can also trigger automated alerts and responses, such as notifying healthcare providers of critical health events or medication reminders for patients.
In essence, the combination of 5G and IoT technologies in wearable devices not only improves the accuracy and speed of data transmission but also fosters a more interconnected and responsive healthcare environment. This, in turn, enhances the capabilities of PHM by enabling more efficient data collection, analysis, and intervention, ultimately contributing to better population health outcomes.
By integrating artificial intelligence into wearables, these devices can not only collect data but also provide intelligent analysis and actionable recommendations to users and healthcare providers. AI algorithms can process vast amounts of health data in real time, uncovering patterns, anomalies, and trends that might be difficult to discern manually.
For individual users, wearables can provide personalized health recommendations based on their data, such as exercise routines, dietary choices, or medication reminders. These tailored suggestions can motivate individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles and manage chronic conditions effectively.
For healthcare providers, AI-powered wearables offer the ability to monitor patients remotely, detect early warning signs of health issues, and stratify patients by risk. This proactive approach allows for timely interventions, reduces hospital readmissions, and optimizes resource allocation in healthcare systems. Moreover, AI can assist in predictive analytics, helping to forecast disease outbreaks, optimize treatment plans, and tailor population health interventions more precisely.
The Future of Population Health Management
Wearable devices, whether designed for medical or consumer use, offer a wealth of data that has the potential to transform the way we understand and address population health challenges.
Looking ahead, the future of PHM is poised for growth and innovation. MedTech companies have a unique opportunity to drive progress in this field by developing innovative software and devices that harness the potential of miniaturization, advanced sensors, 5G, IoT, and AI. By doing so, we can revolutionize healthcare, improve population health outcomes, and pave the way for a healthier world.