How “wearables” are changing pharmacy care for the better
Smartwatches and fitness trackers seem to be everywhere, and according to the data, they are. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans uses a “wearable” device,1 whether it be an Apple Watch, a Fitbit, a continuous glucose monitor, or one of the myriad of other personal health trackers on the market.
Spurred by the demand for remote access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, this technology is only growing.
These wearables aren’t just changing how people track their own healthcare data. They are also changing the way doctors and pharmacists track and manage our health, facilitating a new level of personalized care that allows for real-time, remote monitoring of disease, particularly chronic illnesses.
“These devices can be tools to identify a potential health-related issue early and prompt medical care before a condition worsens,” said Mike Martinelli, a registered pharmacist with Express Scripts® Pharmacy.
What are wearables?
Wearables are remote monitoring tools that you place on your body. These devices collect a constant stream of healthcare data in real time that can be sent directly to your doctor or pharmacist at your discretion. They range from the more commonly known smartwatches and wristbands to headbands, belts, self-adhesive patches, jewelry, clothing, and more.
Early generation wearables simply tracked steps and pulse. Now you can find wearables that track anything from blood pressure to stress levels, seizure activity, blood sugar levels, calories burned, sleep cycles, heart rate variability, mobility, blood oxygen saturation, and blood flow.
Wearables and chronic disease management
Wearable technology is particularly beneficial for those managing chronic health conditions. There are a few reasons for this:
- Wearables increase patient engagement in their care management plan. By tracking things like daily caloric consumption, physical activity, and energy expenditure, wearables give wearers better insight into their everyday activity choices, giving them the power to make better, informed decisions about their health.
- Wearables gather and store huge amounts of real-time personal health data, which allows for more precise chronic disease care and detection. This is particularly evident when it comes to conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
- Wearable blood pressure monitors and ECG/EKG sensors can help providers and wearers detect or manage arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
- Continuous glucose monitors, like the Dexcom and Freestyle, allow providers and wearers to better manage diabetes. “One drawback with traditional finger pricks is that sometimes you only do it once a day or once every three days,” explained Martinelli. “You don’t know if a patient’s diabetes is well controlled. These devices are great for alerting patients when things are out of the ordinary and can prevent more serious issues.”
- Other wearables can help detect seizures, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, neuromuscular conditions, respiratory insufficiency, and even signs of cancer.
- Wearables provide doctors and pharmacists with a higher level of medication oversight to help better manage chronic conditions. “It’s great when a patient mentions they use a wearable device,” said Martinelli. “It used to be that information wouldn’t be available until they went to the doctor’s office every few months. Now it’s available right there, on the spot.” This allows providers and pharmacists to quickly assess how well medication is working to treat a variety of health conditions and decide if changes to their treatment plan should be made.
A quick note about data privacy
Despite the clear health benefits of wearable technology, many consumers have concerns around data collection and the privacy of their health information. A Deloitte survey found that 40% of smartwatch or fitness tracker owners are concerned about the privacy of data these devices collect.2 Tech companies and regulators will have to find a way to address these concerns.
Wearables and the future of pharmacy care
As pharmacists begin to take a more active role in disease management, wearable technology will become an increasingly important tool to help guide preventive, diagnostic, and curative patient care.
Many of these devices, like fitness trackers, are only eligible for reimbursement under healthcare spending accounts with a letter of medical necessity. But that can change in the future. Martinelli recommends checking with your insurance provider to see if any of these devices may be covered by your pharmacy or medical benefits.
If you have any questions about wearables, or any other medication questions or concerns, our pharmacists are available 24/7 to assist you in any way that you need.
Posted date: September 13, 2022
1 The Economist: Wearable devices are connecting health care to daily life (May 2, 2022): economist.com.
2 Deloitte Insights: Wearable technology in health care: Getting better all the time (December 1, 2021): deloitte.com.