Home Health Care Do wearables have a role to play in precision medicine?

Do wearables have a role to play in precision medicine?


On the final day of this year’s Connected Health Conference in Boston, a panel narrowed in on the field of precision medicine. Personalizing care to individual patients involves a plethora of factors. Biology is one such element. The use of artificial intelligence and algorithms is also key in advancing the field. But wearables? Where do they come in — if at all?

Moderator Naomi Fried, founder and CEO of Health Innovation Strategies, asked the four panelists this very question.

Peter Bergethon, Biogen’s vice president of quantitative medicine and clinical technologies, said that in precision medicine, it’s key to know what the patient is doing and how their actions relate to their surroundings or environment. But wearables currently aren’t giving that extra context, Bergethon noted.

“Without context, we will be at risk,” he said. “Wearables tend to be used, I would argue, somewhat context-free.”

While wearables are part of the present, Bergethon doubts they’re part of the future.

Anna Kravets, Merck’s director of business consulting, said the future will include different types of tools like sensing wearables and “invisibles.”

Divakar Ramakrishnan, chief digital officer and vice president of delivery, devices and connected solutions at Eli Lilly, offered a different perspective.

“I think wearables are critical to digital health,” he said.

He pointed out that there are two types of wearables: wearable medical devices and wearable consumer devices. Ramakrishnan acknowledged that consumers sometimes forget about their general wearables. For instance, he bought a heart rate monitor to use while running but stopped using it after three months. However, for a patient with type 1 diabetes, utilizing a wearable for glucose monitoring is quite helpful.

On the whole, Ramakrishnan believes wearables are here to stay.

Teva Pharmaceuticals’ global head of digital health Yechiel Engelhard summed it up by noting that the industry has a lot to learn about how to use wearables in a better way.

Regardless of which factors will be most heavily utilized in precision medicine, organizations need to keep a few things in mind to ensure success in the field. Ramakrishnan emphasized that it needs to be about improving outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. Kravets urged the audience to take a patient-centric approach.

“For us to achieve the promise of personalized medicine, we need to have patients as true partners in the equation,” she said.

Photo: PeopleImages, Getty Images

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