US Representative David Schweikert explained in an interview carried by a February issue of Politico that he expects Congress to redefine the definition of telehealth to include wearables. Schweikert, the Co-chair of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus, further described the future of telehealth to include smartwatches and other wearables. Newer iterations of such devices can monitor vital signs, such as body temperature, sleep cycles, and heart rhythms. He added, “We’re on the cusp of miracle cures.”
When asked by Politico if people would like telehealth to involve more innovation, he responded, “People will love it. Telehealth was one of the most lobbied-against policies on Capitol Hill for years and years. ‘Grandma won’t be able to work FaceTime,’ they’d say. Turns out Grandma knew how to work FaceTime.”
Where Are These Devices?
Telehealth.org’s The Future of Wearable Devices in Healthcare further describes these devices as including blood pressure cuffs; pulse oximeters; heart rate variability devices such as the Oura ring or smartwatches with movement trackers made by Apple or Fitbit; smart home technology, and many others. Although not typically displayed at many behavioral conferences, these devices have developed for decades. Their use will be fueled by congressional decisions to support reimbursement for remote patient monitoring and other digital therapeutics. Once clinicians realize they can be paid for using safe and effective technology, a broader range of such wearables will appear in association conference exhibit halls and Internet-based technology outlets for healthcare.
Now that COVID has proven that technology is more ready to be used than believed by most providers before the pandemic, discussions of the benefits of using such technology are being considered to drive down healthcare costs in decision-making groups such as the Congressional Telehealth Caucus. In the Telehealth.org article, Scoping Review of Wearable Technology in Healthcare, the benefits of using these devices include reducing healthcare disparities.
Wearables to Reduce Healthcare Costs
After the passing of the many telehealth extensions granted by the Omnibus Appropriations bill, the need to reduce healthcare costs is being embraced by Schweikert. In his Politico interview, he stated that technology and innovation can and will reduce healthcare costs. The poor performance of the existing healthcare system has been highlighted in numerous publications, including the 2021 JAMA Network report that US Health System Ranks Last Among High-Income Countries.
Barriers to Wearables for Telehealth
Schweikert also commented that Washington’s tendency to protect entrenched interests could get in the way of progress. As discussed elsewhere at Telehealth.org, another factor that can notably impede progress is practitioner reluctance to use technology, also known as practitioner technophobia. Researchers, however, are publishing increasingly more specific telebehavioral health competencies for graduate students and licensed clinicians.
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