Connected health devices have been around for a while. Think Fitbit, iHealth, Withings, Garmin. It seems that almost everyday a new connected health device is announced. What you may not know is the impact these devices are having on consumers, healthcare providers and the entire healthcare ecosystem. In this post we will explore what connected health devices are, the effect they’re having on our healthcare system and what the future of the market looks like.

What are connected health devices?

The popularity of health-related apps and wearable devices that monitor our daily activity and sleep patterns, along with the rise of 'big data' in our lives, has generated a new area of research – connected health.

Connected health commonly refers to a method of healthcare management that uses technology for the delivery of healthcare services or management of medical conditions. These devices are most commonly connected to the internet via a bluetooth connection to a computer or a smartphone app. This allows the device to send data back to the user so they can track how well they’re doing against goals they set themselves. They can also provide health measurements of patients and transmit them back to providers to facilitate healthcare decisions from afar.

It’s a broad category, but one that is growing rapidly. This technology is already helping people to monitor their health, stay active, and make better decisions about their fitness.

The information each device gathers can be quite different. Wearable gadgets such as Fitbit track your steps taken and your heart rate, while smart scales use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity to help you keep track of your weight loss progress. Other devices measure blood pressure or glucose levels for diabetics, but these are just the start of things.

Over the past decade, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of health-related devices that are able to communicate with one another. Nowadays the traditional face-to-face healthcare model has rocketed into something far more agile and it’s in part thanks to these devices. Smartphones send data about users' heart rates and blood pressure to devices that can be seen by medical professionals. Personal medical devices, like heart rate monitors and insulin pumps, can continuously collect information about their user's most intimate bodily functions.

The benefits

Connected health is about using technology to enable people to manage their own health better and make more informed decisions about their care. It also provides healthcare professionals with a tool for collecting data from patients, which can help them make more accurate diagnoses and improve treatment plans.

These products are especially helpful for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes who might otherwise have to rely on regular doctor visits or hospitalization to monitor their disease.

Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes often have to regularly inject insulin or prick their fingers to test their blood glucose levels. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) take these tasks out of the routine by taking readings automatically throughout the day and sending that data directly to a device the patient can carry with them.

Connected insulin pumps and smart pill bottles are other examples of connected technologies that make it easier for patients with diabetes to manage their condition without constant doctor visits.

They have also had a great impact on sexual and reproductive health - a great example of this is the Emme Smart Case which, paired with their mobile app, seamlessly tracks the pills you take—or don’t—and sends custom reminders based on your unique habits.

Types of devices and examples

The impact connected health devices have had on the industry is enormous. These devices are changing the way we think about our health and how we interact with healthcare providers.

There are a variety of connected health devices on the market today, each with a unique purpose. Here are some common examples:

Activity trackers: Fitness trackers are the most common type of wearable device, worn as wristbands, watches, or even in some cases as a ring. The first fitness trackers were designed to monitor steps taken and calories burned. More advanced models also include heart rate monitors, GPS and sleep tracking capabilities. Some popular brands are Fitbit, Garmin, Oura, Apple and the femtech popular Bellabeat.

Heart rate monitors/EKGs: Devices like Kardia Mobile and MOCAheart can monitor users' heart rhythms and provide results to physicians in real time.

Blood pressure monitors: If you have a health problem, it's important to keep track of your progress. Connected health devices can help you do that, but they can also do much more. You can now buy smart blood pressure monitors that use your smartphone, or even smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, to record and transmit your blood pressure information and history. Some popular examples are the Withings, QardioArm, and MOCACuff.

That information is then easily transferred into graphs, charts and readings that are easy to read and understand; it gets stored in an app on your smartphone. This means you won't have to worry about losing the paper readings you've taken with a conventional monitor (or even those taken with one of the older, more basic digital models).

Blood glucose monitors/diabetes management systems: A number of connected health devices are designed to help diabetics manage their conditions at home, including continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), insulin pumps and more traditional self-testing blood glucose meters with Bluetooth capabilities that send data to mobile apps for patient review and physician. A great example is the iHealth smart wireless gluco-monitoring system.

The future

The future looks bright for connected health devices. In the next few years, we’re likely to see more and more patients with wearable devices that are able to collect data from their bodies, many of them monitoring and tracking vital signs. It’s likely to become the norm. It’s also likely that the medical community’s trust will increase and they will look at these devices as a trusted source of information, allowing doctors and other healthcare providers to have a better understanding of our health status. Nowadays not all doctors are on board with remote monitoring health devices. There’s still some skepticism.

The challenge with these connected health devices will be how to integrate them into our existing healthcare system in a way that is secure, efficient and still protects privacy.

Despite the widespread use of connected health devices, there are a few obstacles that stand in the way of the devices becoming fully integrated into healthcare. The primary being security and privacy concerns. Most connected health devices collect sensitive data about your health so it’s important they abide by the HIPAA compliance standards. The HIPAA Act is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. The US Department of Health and Human Services issued the Privacy Rule standards to address the use and disclosure of individuals’ health information (known as “protected health information”) by entities subject to the Privacy Rule. These entities are also known as “covered entities”. To learn more about these and other HIPAA related information check out our blog post on HIPAA compliance.

The connected health devices market is experiencing explosive growth. Technological advances in embedded sensor technology, wireless sensors, mobile devices and other wearable technology has taken healthcare to a new level. The majority of consumers are using their connected health devices simply because they’ve found them to be beneficial. In addition to the long-term financial benefits, these devices will help decrease the cost of healthcare spending which will eventually shift some of those savings over to the consumer.

To conclude, the market for connected health devices is growing tremendously. It was once a niche category for activity trackers and those with a serious health concern. Now it has exploded to include a greater variety of products than we imagined just ten years ago. The possibilities for these devices continue to grow with technologies such as AR and artificial intelligence. As consumers demand more from connected health devices, manufacturers will find ways to meet them in new ways. Connected health devices are the future of healthcare.

Are you thinking of integrating one of these devices with your digital product? We’d love to help!