Wearables have limits, say HME providers

‘Your smart phone is not going to function as a cane’
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Friday, February 8, 2019

YARMOUTH, Maine – Wearable devices like the Apple Watch may be grabbing headlines with their moves into health care, but HME providers are skeptical of all the hype.

In January, Apple was reportedly in talks with at least three private Medicare Advantage plans about subsidizing the cost of the $399 Apple Watch, which now includes fall detection and an electrocardiogram function, for their members.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that more patients have access to these products and more patients are engaged in physical activity or tracking their sleep, weight or BMI,” said Gary Sheehan, president and CEO of Sandwich, Mass.-based Cape Medical Supply. “All of these things are positive, but we get a little bit lost when we are underwriting the cost of these things, yet we can’t get reimbursed for basic medical equipment.”

That basic medical equipment isn’t as sexy as the latest offering from Apple, but it’s cost-effective, say providers.

“Medicare will not pay for a shower chair or a grab bar to prevent a fall, yet they’ll pay for the hip replacement and rehab—it is one of those things that never makes sense,” said Jason Jones, president of Troy, Ala.-based Jones Medical Supply.

Apple already has agreements with commercial payers like United Healthcare and Aetna, as does FitBit, which in January launched the Fitbit Inspire and the Inspire HR, both geared toward corporate wellness, health plan and health system “partners,” according to its website.

“I get it, they want to incentivize the behavior and the healthier things that could bring,” said Chris Rice, CEO of Diamond Respiratory Services in Riverside, Calif. “The tough question is: Will it get used for 30 or 60 or 90 days and then get put on the shelf?”

Where providers do see the benefit of technology—and see it actually being used—is right within the HME space, they say, pointing to innovations like mobile apps used in conjunction with CPAP machines.

“Our patients love using those apps,” said Jones. “They wake up every day and see how they are doing. It didn’t cost anybody money—that’s just technology doing its thing.”

It’s unlikely to grab headlines, but all the tracking devices in the world won’t prevent a fall from happening in the first place, but HME can, providers say.

“Your smart phone is not going to function as a cane any time soon,” Sheehan said.