Back to all posts

Health data from wearables - the anatomy’s stealth informers

Sarat Pediredla05/06/2017Healthcarealt

Recent studies show digital healthcare is growing at a rapid rate. In 2016, the sector was valued at US$100bn. By 2020, that figure expected to rise by 100%, driven by markets like wireless and mobile health, which complement ‘traditional’ medicine.

The growth of the sector obviously endows it with a lot of power, however, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. The responsibility, of course is the data generated by wearables. Research, pundits predict that by 2020 the data universe is capable of touching monumental proportions of 44 zettabytes or an equivalent of 44 trillion gigabytes.

The ‘growth’ story will be driven by ‘wearables’ including smartwatches, wristbands and other devices that attach to the body, recording everything from heart rate to footsteps. And, of course, this means a corresponding rise in the amount of data being generated.

Naturally, this raises some concerns about data security and privacy. How, for example, can the industry ensure that confidential data remains out of the hands of hackers at a time when large-scale breaches are becoming increasingly common? Get this right - and the potential for good is huge; data collected from wearables can not only aid the individual but improve human life a whole through sparking several key reforms in the wider healthcare ecosystem:


1. Cost Reduction

The NHS and other healthcare systems around the world often face high patient treatment costs due to the time lapse between diagnosis and initiation of this treatment. With wearables such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin, however, data indicating changes - or indeed stasis - in the body can be collected. This can then be analysed using Artificial Intelligence or machine learning, facilitating better treatment plans and equipping healthcare providers in making well-informed decisions - all of which leads to reduced costs and increased savings for trusts.


[object Object]

Image: Apple


2. Creation of actionable insights

Many first generation wearables were limited to providing basic health data on things like duration and quality of sleep. As users gain a clearer picture of their habits, however, they are also likely to want more insight into what lies behind them - for instance, the cause of that sleepless night or prolonged heart rate spike. Hence, new devices will be geared towards identifying practical steps, tailored to the individual, that can lead to lifestyle improvements.


3. Remote medication

Digital connectivity may be amazing in its own right, but it really takes off when combined today’s impressive network of physical infrastructure, including buildings, vehicles and, of course, hi-tech devices. Indeed, remote medication - through which data from millions of patients is collected and compared - could completely transform how healthcare is provided, offering insights on disease diagnosis and treatment with minimal effort.

Clearly, then, so long as the healthcare industry acts responsibly, employing the necessary checks and measures to minimise security risk, data collection from wearables could prove a powerful tool in the modern world. The only question we must ask, therefore, is whether we have the necessary regulatory systems in place to deal with the forthcoming data deluge, helping integrate it into today’s wider healthcare ecosystem.