(The Phyode W/Me wearable heart monitor, an example of therapeutic wearable devices.)
With wearable technology already revolutionizing the medical, fitness and wellness markets, it’s time for the workers’ compensation industry to step up and look more closely at one of tech’s fastest growing sectors. Wearable technology in workers’ compensation has tremendous potential to impact overall costs and productivity, improve the quality of life for the already seriously injured, and keep claims from migrating to long term disability and/or costs. With so many wearable options available today, wearables can help prevent on-the-job injuries and keep them from escalating into more serious problems.
There is a growing need for payers and claims managers to understand the options in wearable products and any applicable decision-making criteria for their relevance in workers’ compensation, but how do you determine when, if and which wearable technology is right for the injured worker?
The overall wearables market is predicted to grow from $20 billion in 2015 to almost $70 billion in 2025, according to an IDTechEx report. Some businesses are already providing wearables for employees or embracing a “bring your own wearables” (BYOW) model for applications such as workplace security access, time management and real-time communications. Twenty percent of American adults already own a wearable device, and the adoption rate is expected to rise, according to a report by PwC.
The technology is light years beyond the calculator watches and portable audio cassette players of the past. Today’s many wearable options include smart phones, glasses, watches, shoes and headgear that can wirelessly measure and report health status. Many advanced solutions are already in action–smart wheelchairs, intelligent prosthetics, and even robotic exoskeletons that miraculously allow rehabilitating workers to walk again, changing the course of recovery and quality of life.
Four Categories of Claims for Wearables
There are four categories of claims where wearable technology is appropriate–complex or catastrophic claims, bariatric claims, geriatric claims and short-term claims. Some of the most revolutionary wearable tech is available for those with catastrophic workplace injuries, including paraplegic, quadriplegic or brain injuries. These innovations give rehabilitating workers new-found control, reducing the need for assistive care in the home, and are often less costly than other systems.
The seriously injured can now use wearable tech such as custom manual wheelchairs with activity tracking and power assistance. They can access breakthrough rehab technology for environmental control with door openers and climate adjusters, smart watches that turn on the lights or move their powered chair out of harm’s way. New communication tools, speaking devices, smartphones, tablets and GPS, future hands-free optical head-mounted displays, with wireless Wi-Fi, infrared and Bluetooth connectivity allow the injured to approach their recovery in a new and dynamic way.
Wearables for Health Monitoring
There are many wearable tech options that have the potential to improve patient outcomes, monitor progress, and reduce injuries involving bariatric, geriatric and short-term claims. An injured worker may use a health tracker wristband that sounds an alert, signaling time to take medication, adjust posture, or monitor the heart rate. Wearable tech could be a beneficial way to improve the health of aging injured workers who may require more consideration or additional treatment.
For health monitoring, there are smartphones, pressure-sensing shoe inserts, special vests, headbands, and other fitness gadgets to monitor posture, vital signs, amount and type of exercise, and how equipment is used for better compliance. For safety, there are inflatable helmets, sun-monitor wristbands, and other sensor devices that can identify hazardous conditions and stop injuries before they happen.
Though wearables have great potential to improve outcomes and quality of life for injured workers, and reduce injuries, there will be an expected learning curve as both insurers and workers identify and adapt to the overall benefits. Early adopters are excited about the future of wearable tech, according to the PwC report, citing its top benefits as improved safety, healthier living, simplicity and ease of use. Wearables are quickly shedding their image as novelty technologies, along with other DIY healthcare innovations including mobile apps.
The time is ripe for the workers’ compensation industry to focus on strategies like wearable technology for a faster return to work and better care for long-term injuries. Built around both the payer and injured worker, these innovations can improve safety and mobility, enhance the quality of life, improve compliance, and lead to faster recovery times.