Wearables, the Internet of Things poised for increased role in healthcare in 2016

As the final weeks of 2015 loom, we tend both to look back at the past year and to think of what lies ahead for the new year. In the realm of mobile digital health, it's been a wild ride of innovation.

There have been advancements in everything from apps to wearables, and we have read and written about how digital health is helping patients to better take control of their care. Let's take a look at some of the top trends of 2015 and what may lie ahead in the new year.


Wearables, which initially debuted prior to this year as fitness trackers worn on the wrist or wrapped around a person's chest, increasingly are being embedded in clothing, and even under human skin. It's illustrating rapid innovation, and that shift is getting a name--"nonwearables," according to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Those researchers are developing the BioPhone, which can sit in a pocketbook or jacket pocket or on top of a table and collect user data via a smartphone accelerometer.

Still, not everyone is an advocate just yet. Gartner Research Director Michael Shanler believes there's still too much hype and not enough evidence that wearables work; in addition, he says, issues with security, development and infrastructure linger. What's more, Robert Pearl, CEO of Kaiser Permanente's Permanente Medical Group, said wearables, such as fitness trackers, aren't viable tools for medical care, but called them good holiday gifts. Validic co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Drew Schiller also spoke out negatively on wearables, calling their abilities as "relatively worthless." 

Smartphone advances

The ability to improve care and treatment of chronic diseases and other care issues continues to put the smartphone at the center of patient-facing technology. The role of the device will only expand in the months and years to come.

Going forward, smartphone innovations will be matched by a proliferation of remote health monitoring devices--technology that has doubled in presence in 2015, hitting 4.9 million in hand, due to "rising market acceptance," according to a recent Berg Insights report. RPM devices already in play are having direct impact for payers and providers when it comes to reducing hospital admissions. Mobile device adoption will be a key reason for big solutions growth in the next few years, with a predicted 33.4 percent growth rate through 2020, states a MarketsandMarkets report.

Security of data and the Internet of Things

As I mentioned in commentary earlier this year, the Internet of Things movement offers tremendous digital health potential, but it's going to require federal agency and congressional leaders to take action and drive support. Industry stakeholders, including Cisco and ACT/The App Association, are stepping up to get IoT on the minds of lawmakers; it's going to need collaborative support to hurdle security and privacy issues, and also will require government funding to get support for innovations.

The good news is that inroads already are being paved. One notable action is the IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative, which addressed medical device security with a new set of software development guidelines. And just a month ago, two cybersecurity groups released a "how to" draft guide for organizations to keep private and sensitive information stored on employees' mobile devices secure. In addition, the guide "demonstrates a standards-based reference design and provides users with the information they need to replicate this approach to mobile device security."

Smartphone advances, wearables proliferation and tighter security bode well for digital health as 2016 arrives. All of us here at FierceMarkets hope all bodes well for our readers during the holiday season and in the New Year, as well. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)