New Apple Watch: Should insurers foot the bill for popular but untested tech?

Delloitte's Harry Greenspun outlines four-part litmus test for ROI of wearables

Columnist and author Jeff Yang calls the new Apple Watch "a bushel of insanely geektastic features wrapped up in a sleek and eminently gorgeous package."

But payers want to know, "what kind of impact will it have on healthcare?," says Harry Greenspun, M.D., director of Deloitte's Center for Health Solutions, (pictured right), in an exclusive interview with FierceHealthPayer.

Greenspun's responsibilities include analyzing healthcare transformation and he's excited about what the watch could mean in the long run for healthcare.

The watch--a first of its kind--is a frontrunner to more sophisticated technology that consumers will come to expect in every aspect of their lives, including healthcare. And more than likely, they will expect insurers to foot the bill, Greenspun says.

"You're going to see great enthusiasm on the consumer side for wearables, with a lot of head scratching on the part of insurers as to how this is truly going to impact healthcare," Greenspun says.

"It's going to be an interesting time," Greenspun muses."The more people say `this is awesome for healthcare,' the more pressure it will put on payers."

There will be lot of opportunity centered around devices such as the Apple watch, Greenspun predicts. It will focus around remote monitoring and patient engagement; moving patients safely from the hospital to home--and will definitely expand to include some telehealth, he adds.

Even now, Congress is ablaze with potential bills on how to regulate and manage such technological advances, and of course privacy issues will abound. But these paint only part of the picture, according to Greenspun.

The bottom line is health plan executives will wonder how to get a return on investment (ROI) out of any technological device that consumers demand the industry incorporate into the healthcare picture. In order for health plans to entertain the possibility of embracing (and reimbursing for) technology such as the Apple Watch, Greenspun predicts they'll need four pieces of evidence:

Rationale: Just as consumers need motivatation, health plan execs need a reason to endorse the new technology. But with the rise of value-based care, new opportunities could arise. Consumer engagement for health promotion and medication adherence, management of chronic disease and remote monitoring now present clearer paths to ROI.

Validity: If clinicians one day make medical decisions based on the apps that interacts with Apple Watch, they must truly reflect what they claim to measure.

Reliability: The data need to flow consistently and accurately in order for clinicians to use the information. Gaps introduce errors that consumers won't find acceptable, but in worse-case scenarios can render the data useless to clinicians and researchers.

Evidence: Amid the excitement over the potential of the sensors and companion apps, like those found with the Apple Watch, right now there is scant evidence that they contribute to improved healthcare outcomes.

In light of these challenges, however, Dan Munro in Forbes makes a valid observation: "The fact is--if digital/mobile health are to succeed (at scale) we desperately need as many big tech titans as we can muster to help."

To learn more:
- read the CNN piece
- check out the Forbes article

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