Apr 17 2020

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Wearable Health Technology

The tools, when properly designed, implemented and adopted, can provide ample benefits for healthcare providers and patients.

Wearable technologies have become a standard part of life for consumers. A recent report from Research and Markets predicts global sales of wearable devices will exceed $60 billion by 2025.

Widely available and often inexpensive, the tools are finding a role among physicians and in many elements of care delivery. Wearable accelerometers, which measure acceleration forces and are commonly found in consumer smartwatches, offer a more reliable measure of physical activity than self-reporting, a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers finds.

“People can overestimate or underestimate on surveys how much and when they move, but wearable devices provide accurate data that cuts through the bias and guesswork,” said Jacek Urbanek, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the research team, in a statement. 

Personalized data generated from wearables is empowering doctors to make more informed care decisions with new insights that extend far beyond a patient’s level of physical activity. The latest wearable tools can monitor everything from a patient’s blood pressure to his or her oxygen saturation, offering physicians unique ways of keeping tabs on their patients from afar.

Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., has adopted the use of consumer wearables such as Fitbit to work seamlessly with its MyAtriumHealth Tracker application. This enables the organization to generate a more complete view of a patient’s health — with details such as weight, blood sugar and step count — all in one place. This data helps Atrium Health clinicians educate patients and take better control of their care.

Healthcare organizations using remote patient monitoring technologies, including wearables, have seen positive outcomes, according to a KLAS Research report. Thirty-eight percent reported a direct link to reduced hospital admissions; 17 percent cited measurable cost savings.

Take a look at how wearables can be properly introduced into organizations and how their capabilities are evolving to fit the demands of modern care.

Wearables and Adoption: Why Proper Introduction of the Tech Is Important

Despite the wider adoption of wearables, encouraging patient compliance remains a challenge.

The use of mobile applications for health management now sits at 35 percent adoption in 2020 (down from 48 percent in 2018), a new report from Accenture finds. And the use of wearable technology for the same purpose is even lower, at 18 percent (down from a high of 33 percent in 2018). 

This slowed momentum in digital health, the Accenture authors note, could suggest a deeper rift between patients’ expectations and how technology is being used in healthcare today. 

For providers using digital care solutions, then, usability and training are crucial (50 percent of patients agree that a bad first impression can ruin their overall experience). Data privacy and security also remain a roadblock (41 percent of patients cited it as their No. 1 concern when considering digital care solutions). 

But there’s good news: Many users of wearable tech still trust their clinicians more than any other entity with this information. They’re also more willing to receive virtual care from traditional and nontraditional providers — with interest toward the latter group growing among younger generations. 

So when presented with a unique opportunity to drive the adoption of digital health solutions such as wearables, providers must focus on designing holistic digital services that fit seamlessly into their clinical practices, demonstrate a willingness to strengthen security around collected data, and provide solutions that fit patients’ needs and wants.

READ MORE: Five healthcare tech trends to watch in 2020.

Where the Technology Is Making Positive Strides in Healthcare Today

There’s no question that an engaging, user-friendly interface is an important aspect to consider when it comes to consumer wearables in healthcare. 

But for clinical staff, these devices are really only as good as the data they provide. That’s why one company, Validic, is focused on connecting the digital health data from these devices and applications like the MyAtriumHealth Tracker to larger health IT ecosystems.

The Durham-based company recently partnered with Humana Inc. to connect hundreds of data endpoints — from smartwatches to blood glucose monitors — with Humana’s Go365 wellness and rewards program. The partnership’s aim is to “fundamentally change lifestyle behaviors to reduce the risk of chronic conditions.” The organizations are already discussing plans to expand the devices and data points available in Go365 to improve consumers’ quality of life, tracking such things as nutrition and smoking cessation.

Wearable devices are also playing a key role in addressing the current pandemic. With their use, Validic is now offering a way for healthcare providers to track coronavirus symptoms exhibited by patients both remotely and in real time. The company’s system collects and analyzes wearable data to spot fevers, monitor oxygen saturation and even track patients’ breathing patterns.

Automated system alerts will notify clinical staff if a patient’s symptoms worsen or improve and when a patient has finished his or her quarantine period and is symptom-free. 

A similar notion guides Providence St. Joseph Health, which was the first system in the United States to treat a patient with the novel coronavirus. Remote patient monitoring tools — such as digital pulse oximeters and thermometers — have been deployed to keep tabs on COVID-19 patients after discharge for signs of trouble that might require quick intervention.

“Having the capacity to monitor patients at home is a huge win for us,” Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, the organization’s chief clinical officer, said in March during a virtual session sponsored by HIMSS.

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