Social media, wearable sensors and "little data" are poised to make big strides in 2014.
And they all fit under the umbrella term connected health, which analyst house IDC defines as "a broad spectrum of technologies that use telecommunications to facilitate the exchange of health information and delivery of care across a geographic distance as well as manage chronic conditions and promote health and wellness."
While adoption of connected health tools has been slowed by a combination of lacking consumer awareness and a limited reimbursement by payers, IDC executives said, that appears to be changing.
Indeed, the industry has seen incredible growth in the past two years, according to Lynne A. Dunbrack, research vice president for IDC Health Insights.
"There's a lot going on here," Dunbrack added. That would include a shift to consumer-directed care; a shortage of healthcare providers; changes in reimbursement and care delivery; an influx of some 30 million consumers under the Affordable Care Act; the development of less-expensive and more efficient monitoring devices; and a move toward population health management, which places more of an emphasis on health and wellness.
And there’s more to come in the next 12 months. Dunbrack's 10 predictions for 2014:
1. mHealth, telehealth and social media will combine to evolve into the new healthcaredelivery model.
2. BYOD will come to health monitoring, and smartphones will become biosensors.
3. Wearables and embedded sensors will move into the mainstream.
4. The mHealth app formulary will lead to prescribed apps.
5. Value-based healthcare will move care delivery from the traditional care setting out into the community.
6. Retail clinics will become a disruptive force in U.S. healthcare
7. By 2016, 30 percent of all U.S. healthcare organizations will have achieved the repeatable stage of the IDC Mobile Maturity Model
8. HIE solutions will be repositioned for population health
9. "Little data" from connected health devices and M2M connectivity will create new opportunities for so-called "big data" and analytics
10. Certain healthcare organizations will experiment with Google Glass
According to Dunbrack, social media tools will grab more of the spotlight in the coming year as consumers turn to mHealth for health and wellness tips.
"People who are more connected to their social communities and are sharing their progress and health goals will feel more accountable," Dunbrack said.
Those outlets will help providers as well, she said.
"Clinicians are strapped as it is,” she said. “They're really not in a position to see a patient every six minutes.”
In the IDC report, "U.S. Connected Health 2014 Top 10 Predictions: The New Care Delivery Model," Dunbrack explained that mobile and social technology will be paired with telehealth to help those with chronic conditions manage their health and wellness, and she predicted this trend would develop during the next two to three years.
Over the next five years, she said, investment dollars would target telehealth technology or remote health monitoring services that include mobile and social technologies.
Dunbrack also sees an increase in sensor use on two fronts. Smartphones are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, she pointed out, and can now be used as sensors to collect biometric data. Led by the likes of Ginger.io, AliveCor and the Smartphone Physical (which debuted at TEDMED 2013), these sensors will continue to evolve and multiply.
The same holds true, she said, for wearables and embedded sensors. From bracelets and armbands to pendants and sensor-embedded clothing, these trackers represent some 60 percent of the wearable computing market, she said. As sensors are developed to track more physiological data, and as they become smaller, less obtrusive and more passive, they'll grow in popularity.
Among the more notable recent examples, she pointed to are Microsoft's experiments with a Smart Bra, Heapsylon's Sensoria line of fitness socks, Proteus Digital Health's line of Helius ingestible sensors, and IDerma's Teddy The Guardian and BabyWatch's Tedi, two health monitors that embed sensors in plush toys.
While all this data coming in from devices – Dunbrack calls it "little data" – might seem overwhelming to health providers, Dunbrack sees this as an opportunity for big data and analytics providers to create solutions that gather, sort and analyze consumer-reported data. She expects payers, providers and accountable care organizations to invest in analytics over the next two years, with a particular emphasis in transactional systems that can improve process accuracy and provide real-time decision support.
Perhaps most surprising, Dunbrack said, is the appearance of Google Glass on this list.
Offered earlier this year to some 8,000 people around the globe, the high-tech eyewear is being tested in, among other places. Hartford Hospital's Center for Education, Stimulation & Observation, the "Glassomics" lab at San Diego's Palomar Health, and the University of California San Francisco. It's also the focal point of a collaboration between Philips and Accenture, and has been tried out by Rafael Grossman, MD, at Eastern Maine Medical center in Bangor.
"Other trends have been building up over time, but Google Glass is new," Dunbrack said. "It will be interesting to see where this goes in the delivery of and support of care."