According to population estimates and projections provided by the UN, the world’s population is on track to reach 9.6 billion by midcentury and nearly 11 billion by 2100. As the population grows, so does the need for more services like transportation, affordable housing, and access to schools and healthcare. We already live in a world where the demand for quality healthcare is increasing and programs like the U.S. Affordable Care Act will provide more people with health coverage, but it will not manage demand and patient expectations. As providers and payers look to technology to help solve these problems, wearable computing devices and software systems can provide access to meaningful healthcare data to better prevent and manage conditions and diseases.

Wearable computing devices have the potential to provide a significant impact on workflow, quality of care, access and driving positive outcomes, which are key success factors for a growing patient population. This technologies will enable virtual and remote care, be a means for collecting more and better data, and provide more meaningful data to clinicians and patients. Management of a large patient population will rely on strategically utilizing an overextended clinician staff, lowering patient contact hours, and managing disease remotely. A crucial success factor will be to accurately leverage data analysis and algorithms to provide the most meaningful way to manage disease states.

The technology provided by wearable computing devices will transform the healthcare experience from the time you walk into a hospital until you return home continually transmitting health data to your doctor virtually. This technology will proactively improve your health through data-driven findings. For example, in an emergency room an incoming patient would receive a wearable device upon admission, tracking a variety of vital signs that would assist the caregiver by providing automated triage to determine levels of urgency and types of care needed. Also, hospitals could benefit by eliminating identification mistakes through positive patient identification, thus ensuring they are preparing and providing the right medication, care or procedure to the right person. When devices would incorporate a proximity sensor, caregivers would know when patients have arrived in their departments for services, which room a patient has been in, for how long and what diagnosis or treatment they are scheduled for. This type of data awareness will impact the overall workflow of a hospital.

In an emergency, wearable computing devices will prove very important to “code red” scenarios. First responders wearing gloves with built in sensors and heads up displays would be able to provide direct feedback, both to the responder and to the hospital ED, alerting them of the patient’s vitals to prepare for an incoming trauma. The responder would also be able to livestream video from the back of an ambulance for assistance in complicated cases and to allow hospital staff to configure an operating room, radiology suite, catheterization lab or other procedure depending upon the information being provided.

Hospital operations and emergency situations are not the only healthcare environment where workflow will be greatly impacted by these new devices. Wearables will enable virtual and remote care, which could have the greatest impact in improving access and improving the efficiency of care. Virtual clinics would be able to provide urgent care through videoconferencing between you and a caregiver. For more complicated cases and follow-ups, wearable computing devices will be used to monitor specific conditions and provide an alert if more intensive care is required. Virtual procedures and real-time consolations for routine procedures will become the norm, as doctors will be able to use a variety of sensors to treat a patient without them having to leave the comfort of their own home. For example, dermatologists could perform screenings for suspected skin diseases or conditions with the use of high definition cameras either in the home or in satellite offices. This specialty, which is typically overbooked, would then have the ability to provide real-time virtual consulting through data transmitted, further impacting access to an underserved population where skin cancers, if caught early, could significantly impact the mortality rates.

As these wearables and sensors proliferate, a great deal of data will be generated. This opportunity must be managed with careful data analysis and algorithms in order to provide physicians with the information they need to conduct meaningful real-time virtual consulting sessions and manage large populations remotely. These types of systems allow caregivers to provide high quality patient care and support government mandate outcome and evidence based guidelines. Public health departments will have the ability to monitor underserved populations with low cost systems that require less human intervention, pushing towards disease prevention and early detection rather than late stage conditions that are more expensive and difficult to manage. Patients will have the ability to take on more of the responsibility of their future health and lower their out of pocket costs.

The healthcare industry will face many challenges in implementing systems that leverage these wearable devices. Some more obvious concerns are the technology costs and time to implement, the number of options and the training required to place more care in the hands of the patient. Further, many health care systems will need to show a return on these investments and this will require larger systems to carefully choose which systems and platforms to implement and take advantage of future revisions to bring more patient types and better data analysis to the solution.

Interoperability will be another consideration to the IT department, as the number of disparate systems that will contain these data sources – whether part of other health care providers or commercially available systems or even from devices that individual patients may purchase on their own. Healthcare exchanges are being developed to handle data interactions between large healthcare systems, but this will not solve all the issues. Device manufacturers must work together to build systems that can easily make data available to the clinicians and consumers. Since device and application creators are not accustomed to sharing their intellectual property with one another and most of the time they are not familiar with the needs of the healthcare industry, a third party product lifecycle company with a birds-eye view of the healthcare industry can help facilitate the relationship and assist with industry knowledge.

The future of healthcare will require more effort to manage a growing population and wearable computing devices are a solution to manage this. The recent proliferation of devices and sensors will create new concerns around mountains of data, but with carefully designed software systems that will transform this data into meaningful, outcome driven results. With the number of devices and sensors that are available in the market, healthcare payers and providers will have another tool to help manage this growing population.