Wearables, Virtual Health are Changing our Perception of Care

Wearables, Virtual Health are Changing our Perception of Care

I have a bad habit of hunching when I sit at my computer. Over the years, this has led to some cervical compression in my neck. Cervical myelopathy can lead to problems with fine motor skills, pain, and loss of balance. Physical therapy hasn’t been effective, and I had been contemplating surgery. A friend recently suggested trying a small wearable device that hangs between the shoulder blades. It generates a little buzz whenever I hunch so that I’m more conscious of my posture. I was initially skeptical, but I tried it…and it worked. I am now more mindful of my posture and the compression in my spine is beginning to reverse. This simple wearable device could save me from having to undergo expensive medical procedures in the future.

According to our upcoming 2022 Survey of US health care consumers report, a growing number of people use wearables, apps, digital assistants, and smart devices to measure their fitness and health-improvement goals (49% in 2022 vs. 42% in 2018) and to monitor health issues (34% in 2022 vs. 27% in 2018) such as physical activity, weight, and blood pressure. Among people who use these devices, 78% say it has an impact on their behavior, according to our survey results. In addition, 70% of people who wear smartwatches or fitness trackers say the devices have helped them improve their health, according to a separate survey from our Technology, Media & Telecommunications practice (see the Deloitte 2022 Connectivity & mobile trends survey.)

The growing role of wearables and virtual health

My colleague Paul Silverglate and I discussed these survey results during a webinar last month. We also explored some of the trends we are seeing in tech-enabled and virtual health (view the presentation here). Paul leads our US technology sector.

Wearable devices are being integrated into our lives. For example, a wearable might alert the user to a change in body temperature, which could indicate a COVID-19 infection. Devices can also constantly gather data to track an existing health condition. However, only 4% of surveyed physicians said data collected from patients’ wearables has been integrated into electronic health records, a decrease from 2020 (see Redefining how health care is delivered).

Given the mountains of data being generated by these devices, it is critically important that the data is secure so that consumers are willing to share it with clinicians, and clinicians see value in using it. This can help to build trust between consumers, health care providers, and device manufacturers.

Virtual health encounters are on the rise

Most of us spend a good bit of time online. We use our computers and phones for everything from ordering food to hailing rides. Going online to access health care and wellness services is a natural step. Six out of 10 consumers we surveyed said they attended at least one virtual medical appointment. It’s not surprising that millennials (ages 25-40) lead this trend. We were a bit surprised to see that baby boomers (ages 58-76) tend to be most satisfied with their virtual clinical visits. According to our consumer survey, 57% of boomers say they were “very satisfied” with the visit. We are also seeing more virtual well-being services. This was particularly important during the first two years of the pandemic as anxiety and depression levels spiked.

Temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels can often be monitored at home, but some diagnostics, such as blood tests, require an in-person visit. However, the number of diagnostic tests that can be performed at home are increasing. This trend could have a positive impact on health outcomes. Consider a heart patient who visits a doctor every couple of months and has blood pressure taken. A home blood pressure device might make it possible for that patient to monitor blood pressure more frequently (and without the stress of an office visit) and have that information automatically transmitted to the doctor or care team. This can help reduce the stress of traveling to the doctor’s office, which could elevate the patient’s blood pressure.

Even medical equipment that has historically only been seen in hospitals and medical offices is becoming small and more transportable and able to collect and transmit data. In New York City, for example, some ambulances are equipped with sonogram and MRI machines. This could give emergency responders the ability to conduct a brain scan on a potential stroke victim on the way to the hospital. For complex conditions, I expect that patients and clinicians will prefer multi-modal interactions, including in-person visits and some type of digital interaction between those encounters.

We are all consumers of health. Connected devices and virtual health offer an incredible opportunity to help us live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. We are just at the beginning of this journey. Five years from now, we will likely be talking about devices and technologies that we can’t even imagine today.

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