There is an undeniable trend that is happening in the world of medical technology today, as wearable devices are becoming more and more popular, changing the way we treat our health. Companies of all shapes and sizes are creating devices that will help their users keep better track of their health. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is pushing hard into the space with its Apple Watch, which has a strong focus on health as a main selling feature.
Apple recently partnered with the continuous glucose monitoring company Dexcom (NASDAQ:DXCM) to bring data from the company's G4 Platinum System directly onto the watch, which allows for convenient viewing and tracking of data.
Devices like these now offer unprecedented access to data that can be tracked, stored, analyzed, and shared like never before, and it's hard to predict what kind of impact this is going to have on the world.
I spent the first 10 years of my working career in the healthcare field, dealing directly with providers of all types as they tried to help their patients achieve better health outcomes. This experience gave me a unique view on how medicine works from the inside of a clinic, and how providers think about technological advances that appear in their area.
While it's natural to think that anything that had the potential to provide better health outcomes for patients would be welcomed with open arms, the real story is generally far more complicated. It's always difficult to tell how willing providers will be to accept new technological advances into their practices, as providers can be very resistant to major changes that have the potential to disrupt the way that they practice medicine.
Consider the recent medical devices innovations in the diabetes field. Leading insulin pump manufacturer Medtronic PLC (NYSE:MDT) recently announced a new device called the Minimed Connect, which allows for the remote monitoring of data created on their insulin pump & sensor to be easily shared over the Internet.
The pump will soon be able to talk directly to a smartphone, which in turn will be able to upload data directly to the cloud, which could then be shared with providers. This capability is a wonderful innovation, as patients will soon have the ability to share their blood sugar and insulin delivery data with family members and providers of all kinds. However, with technology like this hitting the market in the near future, I can think of a couple reasons why providers will be resistant to making technology like this a part of their practice.
When everything is going well with a patient's health, technology like this sounds great. However, diabetes is a tricky disease to manage, as it is up to patients to monitor their blood sugar throughout the day and make dosing decisions for themselves.
So, what happens when the patient's blood sugar goes too high or too low? If the provider suddenly has access to that information, are they now responsible for being proactive to deal with that situation? Will providers be responsible for making outbound phone calls if they see that a patient's blood sugar is outside of the ideal range? Could they potentially be on the hook if they had remote access to the patient's records, and the patient ended up in the emergency room?
That's a murky subject to think about, and if providers could suddenly be held responsible for patients that are outside of their office, you can bet they will think twice before they adopted this kind of technology.
Who's footing the bill?
I've yet to visit a single provider's office that isn't incredibly busy all of the time. The phone is ringing off the hook, the fax machine is always spitting out prescription refill requests, and getting an appointment can take months. These offices are already stretched quite thin, so when would these providers find the time to proactively access patients records when they can barely keep up with the day to day happenings in their clinics? Would they need to hire more staff to keep a constant watch?
A provider's time is extremely precious, and often time these providers are constantly under the gun to see a certain number of patients per day. Providers generate fees by seeing patients and performing services throughout the day, so they often have big pressure on them to see as many patients as their schedules will allow in order to maximize their revenue. So, how would providers be reimbursed for the time they take to remotely monitor their patients? While it's certainly possible that insurance companies would eventually set up reimbursement policies for remote monitoring, that's far from certain.
So, will providers be willing to go through the time and expense of setting up their offices to deal with monitoring devices if they won't see a monetary benefit from the arrangement? Perhaps some big clinics who are more technologically advanced will, but most providers who work in small clinics will probably be very resistant to any changes that come without a reimbursement component for their time.
A bright future for caregivers
While early on these devices may experience some resistance from the likes of professional providers such as doctors and nurses, technological changes like this could be extremely attractive for another type of important caregiver: parents.
When a child has diabetes, it's a true 24x7 job for parents to try and manage their child's disease, and it's a never-ending balancing act to try and keep their blood sugar in control. If all of a sudden these parents have remote access to their kids' blood sugar and insulin levels when they are away, that's a huge win for them, as it would make it far easier for them to be proactive about preventing their child's blood sugar from going to high or too low.
A more connected world is coming, and it has the potential to significantly change the way that medicine is treated. There will certainly be some bumps along the way, and many providers might be very resistant to the changes coming, but in the long run I think devices will go a long way in helping patients better manage their health. If there is a real demand on the patient side, providers are going to have to find a way to make this kind of technology a part of their practice.