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Wearables in healthcare to be promoted by NHS England. What’s next?

NHS England has announced its plans to provide free WiFi in hospitals to push for adoption of wearable technology. It hopes that wearables can be used in clinical settings. At K-message we looked at wearable technology and quantified self impact on pharma in early 2014. Although NHS’s announcement brings wearables in healthcare one step closer, there is still a lot to do.

According to the research quoted by NHS over a fifth of patients with diabetes will have experienced a largely avoidable hypoglycemic episode whilst in hospital. Wearable technology may help doctors to detect deterioration early and act without delay. NHS England hopes, that connected sensors will be used to monitor health of people with long term conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, liver disease or asthma. The information gathered by wearable technology will be uploaded directly into patients’ records through the digital health services platform.

Nowadays, NHS maintains highly successful application (50 million hits per month) NHS Choices, that allows UK citizens to search and register for GP visit, book prescription and register for other services. NHS Choices provides also preliminary symptom checker, medical knowledge database and health related news promoting healthier lifestyle.

From the pharmaceutical marketing perspective embracing wearables in healthcare clear opportunity. Wearable (but also ingestible and implantable) devices and sensors will provide us with valuable real world evidence.With the mass adoption of such sensors assessment of treatment efficiency and drug safety will improve on unimaginable scale.  Use of wearables in healthcare may also greatly impact treatment adherence (making patient to take medication as and when prescribed). In general, it moves medicine from population-based to individual data based, truly personalized healthcare.

wearable sensors nature

The types of physiological data points and the wearable sensors under development or on the market to monitor them. – Nature.com


Technology providers seeing vast business opportunity are joining those efforts. Then, they go back seeing how hard it is to operate in strictly regulated market.We all may remember how Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin were discussing their work on sensor contact lenses for diabetes (with Novartis/Alcon) and longevity medicine project of Calico. Their learning was in Sergey Brin’s words:

“Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”

 

For pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers this regulatory burden is given for their core business. For them, raise of wearable devices and mobile health applications raises some issues. Our smartphones, fitbits, jawbones and misfit shine wearables are not meant to be medical devices. Data acquired by wearables may not be accurate as they do not hae to be. They are not designed to the clinical and healthcare standard – there are no backup systems if the battery goes down, if user switches the phone in silent mode etc. Today wearable technology for pharma is still not good enough to bet patients safety on it. FDA’s guidance allows wearables in healthcare only as general wellness, low risk devices.

 

The solution may come from the alliance of pharma and technology. Novartis with Google and Qualcomm, UCB with MC10, GSK with Medidata have chosen this direction. Another may be innovative startups companies willing to align with regulatory and compliance burden for a benefit of entering profitable niche leftover by more established players.

K-message believes that finally wearables and more generally, the internet of things will change and shape the future of healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. If you know or, even better, make a product or service intended to be a part of this future we will be happy to cover your story.

About Piotr Wrzosiński

Piotr Wrzosinski is a sociologist focused on digital marketing in highly regulated industries. He combines experience from top players in tobacco, financial services, and pharma with a passion to the content marketing and technology. All opinions posted are his own unless stated otherwise.

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