Prescription technology and wearable tech in healthcare

Adrian Clark, Executive Director of Vertical Business, Epson Europe, looks at wearable technology and how it can offer a better solution for the chronically ill.

Prescription technology and wearable tech in healthcare

Treating chronic illness with prescription technology.

Sometimes we become so used to things being done in a particular way that we lose sight of how inconvenient, costly and inadequate they are.

Say, for example, you are one of Europe’s large and expanding population of people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Your life will revolve around a regular schedule of visits to a doctor or a hospital for check-ups and monitoring.

Currently this approach is expensive and time-consuming, however in the future it will simply be unaffordable given the rapid aging of a European population expected to grow from 501 million to 525 million by 2035. Additionally, regular medical visits may not always provide medical practitioners with the best possible information to judge how you are. They have to rely on a few specific tests or readings done at a single point in time.

Now a fast-growing technology which allows the fit and well to monitor their heart-rate, calories burned and steps taken is being talked about as possibly having the biggest health impact on those with chronic medical illness.

Wearable technology

Wearable devices with sensors, similar in concept to those smart wristbands for fitness, have the potential to revolutionise the delivery of healthcare to millions as well as to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

They will allow patients to be monitored at home while they lead normal lives and will provide health practitioners with a more accurate and complete picture of their symptoms and progress.

Better management should result in fewer hospital admissions and fewer premature deaths since carers will be alerted electronically if the monitor detects a problem.

Apart from patients being more in control of their own care, wearable monitoring technology provides a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak healthcare landscape of spiralling costs and mounting demographic pressures.

Chronic diseases affect more than 80 percent of Europe’s over-65s. This age-group is projected almost to double by 2060, according to Eurostat.  Chronic conditions are also responsible for the biggest share of healthcare costs – 70-80 percent of the total, or 700 billion Euros.

Transparency Market Research found that in 2012 the healthcare and medical segment already accounted for about 35% of the overall global wearable technology market, closely followed by the fitness and wellness segment.

A new era

Wearable technology, according to many commentators, promises a new era of the ‘connected’ patient which will open up a door of opportunity to healthcare providers to transform the management and control of chronic diseases.

If so, it might also change the habits of family doctors. Instead of prescribing medicines, they might start prescribing apps, say, for sleep monitoring, exercise and weight management as well as for chronic disease management.

In a recent PwC Health Research Institute report, roughly two thirds of physicians and nurse practitioners surveyed in the US said they would be willing to prescribe an app that would help patients manage a chronic disease like diabetes.

Also, it found that about 42 percent of physicians were ‘at least somewhat comfortable’ relying on at-home diagnostic data to prescribe medication without seeing the patient at all.

Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for patients with chronic illnesses as it can be with the fit and well who buy wearable monitoring devices. A recent article on wearables in Wired.com put it thus: ‘People with chronic diseases don’t suddenly decide that they’re over it and the novelty has worn off. Tracking and measuring—the quantified self—is what keeps them out of the hospital.’