Rise of direct-to-consumer medical devices

15 January 2019

Advances in internet-connected consumer medical devices are improving patient outcomes and lowering costs, according to a recent article published in JAMA. It is estimated that more than 50 million people in the US currently wear a connected device to track activity and that number is expected to increase to more than 160 million over the next few years.

The development of technologies such as virtual assistants, smart phones and smart watches have enabled patients to collect their own clinically relevant data. Companies are adding an increasing number of features to their devices, such as electrocardiographic and fall-detection capabilities. This is in addition to the current capabilities, which include heart rate activity, nutrition and sleep tracking. Developers are also currently involved with facilitating symptom description and glucose monitoring in an attempt to improve patient engagement.

Wearable devices have been cited as being particularly useful for detecting heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or ectopic beats. However, abnormal findings must be validated with direct electrocardiographic recordings, according to the journal authors. “Although the use of consumer-based devices may be more affordable than traditional ambulatory electrocardiographic monitoring, it is essential to understand the limitations of these technologies to avoid inappropriate reliance on them for diagnostic purposes,” the JAMA article stated. 

Interestingly, popularity for wearable devices is highest amongst the over 55s and is also growing fastest amongst this age group, according to a recent eMarketer report. According to their research, the over 55s represent just over 30% of the total wearable device market. In 2019, it is predicted that 8.2 million Americans aged 55 and older will use a wearable device, up more than 15% from 2018.

Developments in these devices are rapidly evolving, ushering in a new era of remote monitoring and telemedicine. However, manufacturers are still faced with a number of challenges such as data management, cybersecurity, regulation and reimbursement. These require careful consideration over the next few years and a need for honest and open discussions with different stakeholders. However, it is clear that these devices are here to stay and offer huge potential for manufacturers and patients alike.



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