Stephen T. Doyle is senior director for Strategic Health Management Solutions for UPMC Health Plan and UPMC WorkPartners, which are both part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. The UPMC Insurance Services Division offers a full range of insurance programs and products and also includes: UPMC for Life, UPMC for You, UPMC for Kids, Community Care Behavioral Health, LifeSolutions, EBenefit Solutions and Askesis Development Group.
Wearable fitness technology is a term that describes devices that measure physical activity, heart rate, caloric expenditure and other biometric measures. These are also devices that could dramatically change the face of the health-care industry.
With wearable fitness technology, there is a potential to create accurate, real-time data about the people who wear it. It can also provide a continuous validation of a person’s daily health behaviors, which, over time, can build to reveal overall health. By collecting data in several areas — including eating and exercise — these devices can function much like a health coach or trainer providing goals, monitoring activity and providing feedback. An added benefit: The devices are always with you.
According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, it is estimated that 20 percent of Americans currently own a wearable device. Of these users, many are young. Millennials make up more than 50 percent of the population, and 53 percent of Millennials say they are excited about the future of wearable technology. Some estimates project that the sales of wearables could gross almost $6 billion by 2018.
As these devices evolve — both in design and capability — they increase in terms of relevance and use. Early fitness monitors were generally very expensive and obtrusive, which meant only serious athletes, extremely fit persons or participants in clinical research programs ever used them. Now, with a myriad of design options, coupled with the integration of other technologies — such as smartwatches, smartphones, clip on devices etc. — as well as the market competition-driven lowering of the price, these devices are continuing to increase in popularity.
Wearable technology is generally affordable and easy to use. These devices could track a user’s fitness activities, sleeping habits, body temperature and heart rate to deliver real-time, relevant health information. By leveraging the data produced from these devices, the potential is there to improve health and reduce health-care costs over time through modifying daily health behaviors, and also improve preventive care and predictive modeling. Wearable technology could really advance population health management and allow an individual’s health-care provider to support them in a more proactive and effective way.
Wearable technology is not a wellness silver bullet, nor does it replace the relationship between a patient and a physician. However, the data that these devices produce can enable health-care organizations to develop more effective and more personalized approaches to care, which can improve the health of a population and reduce costs.
The concerns over these devices and their use in health care and health insurance are typically around privacy and confidentiality. This, as with any protected health information, needs to be kept in accordance with all applicable laws and shouldn’t be shared with an employer or other entity without appropriate consent from the user.
There’s also concern over how the information would be used. This is a natural concern that occurs with the introduction of any new technology that requires an element of personal information disclosure to function most effectively. Many mobile apps, such as banking apps or travel apps, are great examples of how initial concerns over information sharing dissipates as technology becomes more ubiquitous, personalized and relevant to the individual.
To learn about UPMC WorkPartners’ suite of population health management tools and wellness programs that enable organizations to create a culture of health and better manage rising medical, disability and workers’ compensation costs, visit http://www.workpartners.com/products-services/health-wellness/.