How Apps and Wearables are Changing the Population Health Landscape

At the center of modern population health practices is data. Traditional forms of gathering data include culling medical records, analyzing ever scrap of demographic information available, looking at medical studies conducted, and gleaning information from other people/systems/organizations that are compiling their own health databases. But the advent of smartphones and wearable apps allows a whole new sort of data collection. It allows access to real-time, uniquely tailored data for an individual, and at the same time (when enough individuals are using the app, mobile apps and wearables) allow access to lots and lots of numbers. Numbers that can change the landscape of population health for a community and for the world.

Health Apps

Image of intellicare apps

Northwestern’s Intellicare app suite opens a new door into quickly and easily collecting data on mental health.

From Apple’s Healthkit to Samsung’s SHealth, apps that help people measure their fitness activity and diet are becoming more and more popular. But we’re also seeing the emergence of a level of unprecedented apps, such as Northwestern University’s Intellicare  app suite that focuses on mental health. Using a variety of approaches to treating mental health based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the Intellicare suite holds the potential to provide data on mental health from a variety of patients. Although not a complete substitute for face-to-face interaction, the app suite grants patients an accessible and cheap first line of defense resource. Yet another a tool in the value-based healthcare model.

Wearables

image of a fitbit

Wearables adoption is set to double from from 2014 to 2019.

A recent study in 2015 indicates that patients with multiple sclerosis were much more likely to engage in an activity tracking physical fitness with wearables. Over 24o patients enrolled in the study to track their activity with Fitbits and 77% made it all the way through to the post-study follow-up survey. For starters, wearables are cool. Just like it’s fashionable to have a smart phone, it’s fashionable to have a Fitbit. According to a survey conducted by RBC in 2015, Fitbits are one of the most in-demand wearables out there.

And the wearable market is only going to grow. The investment firm Piper Jaffray expects that from 2014 to 2019, wearable technologies are expected to nearly double in adoption across the world. They point out three trends behind the widespread growth of wearables (which could be attributed to health apps as well):

  1. Health and fitness becoming a growing concern among individuals in more and more demographics
  2. People wanting to be able to quantify and analyze more and more of their activity
  3. Convergence between brands and tech e.g. UnderArmor acquring MyFitnessPal, etc.

Privacy Concerns

As more and more consumers use apps and wearables, more data becomes available. But as the availability of data grows, health organizations and other businesses need to make sure that they are harvesting this data in ethical fashion. There have already been several law suits in regards to companies not being upfront about their privacy policy. Moving forward, companies need to work with consumers’ full awareness and trust if they are to make the most out of the data available.

What are your thoughts on apps and wearables? Is there a particular company or product that you think is making strides? Let me know @MarkBehl.