Realising the true potential of health wearables

Views & Analysis

The age of digital is upon us and with it comes the potential to revolutionise how healthcare is provided, with the millennium’s promise of a new personalised approach to medicine and care now a very real possibility.

This transformational change is being driven by global concerns of an ageing population – 8.5% of people worldwide (around 600 million) are now aged 65 or over, with that number set to rise to 1.6 billion by 2050 [1] – and a corresponding focus on healthy living.

One of the foremost methods of delivering on this promise is through health wearables. Not just consumer wearables, but medical-grade devices that can gather information about a patient’s health, including aspects such as their blood pressure, blood glucose levels and heartbeat, providing patients and doctors with data in real time, and allowing for quicker intervention and better health management.

The advantages of wearables are well-known, yet there are still obstacles in the way of an industry-wide adoption of the technology. Development and funding costs, usability, data security and privacy, and patient engagement are just some of the issues that still need to be addressed.

So exactly what can wearables help the healthcare industry achieve? And where can improvements be made before the true potential of health wearables can be realised?

R&D and value-based pricing

Results from a pharmaphorum-led stakeholder survey, sponsored by SAP, which included pharma, medical device and biotech companies, healthcare providers, researchers, IT solution providers and medical communications agencies, show many believe in the potential of wearables in the R&D and value-based pricing space. Almost all of those who participated (96%) believe wearables have the potential to improve treatments through a better understanding of patient behaviour; 90% say wearables could lead to improved clinical trial monitoring for endpoint development; and 92% suggest that the real-world data collected could better help prove the value of medicines and drug development.

Of course, all three aspects are inter-linked. A better understanding of patient behaviour leads to better clinical trial monitoring and endpoint establishment, in turn leading to a more informed R&D process and better treatments. The collection of data related to real-time effects of therapies leads to a better understanding of the true value of medicines and therefore can be used for more precise drug pricing. The result? A drug priced to reflect its value that has been developed based on direct data gathered from the patient and that has a greater chance of being effective.

Improving patient-centricity

One of the biggest buzzwords right now in healthcare, ‘patient-centricity’, is quickly being adopted across the entire industry, from healthcare professionals (HCPs) to big pharma. The approach encompasses various aspects, from empowering patients through to improving their communication with HCPs.

Indeed, the majority of our respondents agreed with these sentiments. Enabling patients to take charge of their own health, contrasting the traditional HCP and physician role as the custodian of patient health data, while also bolstering the patient–doctor relationship are what our respondents believe to be major advantages to health wearables. At the same time, they allow patients to avoid the need to be physically in the presence of their doctor, giving a greater degree of independence to the individual and offering health systems the ability to manage risks and outcomes more efficiently and carefully.

Who will drive wearables adoption?

Regardless of the many potential advantages of health wearables, there are still many questions to be answered.

One of the obstacles in the way of widespread adoption seems to be a split opinion of who is to drive the process, with 32% of survey respondents believing patients to be the key drivers in wearables adoption with HCPs and providers coming in a close second at 25%.

There will also be responsibility in terms of patient adherence as some may hesitate in providing pharmaceutical companies with their personal details which could risk identification, stigmatisation and possibly compromise treatment coverage. Support from HCPs and proper education of patients in how to use each wearable will no doubt be key to that issue.

Going hand-in-hand with driving wearables adoption comes the issue of funding – who is responsible for paying for the process? Again, opinion was split between our respondents, with big data companies such as Google, IMS and SAP seen as key drivers by 15% of respondents, followed by pharma/biotech/medical device companies (8%) and health insurers (5%).

Fulfilling the potential of wearables

There are understandably those that remain unsure of wearables technology due to a lack of clarity in key issues such as regulations, legal liability, interoperability, responsibility and compliance.

However, overall it seems many believe that the adoption of health wearables will lead to a new patient–physician paradigm, ultimately resulting in better outcomes for both parties. And the pharmaceutical industry is taking notice. According to the National Institute of Health’s records, by late 2015 there were 299 clinical trials underway that included wearables to some degree [2].

But to fully realise the potential for health wearables requires a collaborative, patient-centric approach. Only once this is achieved will wearables be able to offer a genuine value proposition that can improve health outcomes for all stakeholders.

‘The hype and the hope: The journey from consumer to medical-grade wearables’ is a new white paper developed by pharmaphorum in partnership with SAP that investigates the current health wearables climate, and the issues and challenges that need to be overcome before they can live up to the hype and deliver on their potential.

Please click here to obtain your free copy of the white paper.


  1. US Census Bureau (2015). An Aging World: 2015.
  2. Bloomberg (2015). Big Pharma Hands Out Fitbits to Collect Better Personal Data.
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Marco Ricci