Where Do Wearables Fit Into Healthcare?

By Tom Giannulli, MS, MD, Chief Medical information Office, Kareo

Wearable technology to help people monitor their health and lifestyle is a hot topic in the news lately. Mobile health apps and wearable devices are big business. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation the number of these solutions will grow by 25% a year and by 2018, 1.7 billion people worldwide will download a health app.

While people are certainly buying these devices and apps, the question is are they using them. And, are they actually helping improve health and patient outcomes? A new study from Technology Advice suggests they aren’t using them that much. Their research found that nearly 75 percent of adults do not track their weight, diet, or exercise using a fitness tracking device or app and most cited reason was general lack of interest.

It could be that they need more engagement from their physician to feel it is worthwhile. More than half said they would be more likely to use a health tracking app or device if there was a possibility of lowering their insurance premiums. Just over 40 percent said better advice from their healthcare provider would be a possible incentive to use a fitness tracker.

So what will it take, to make these apps and devices more a part of the overall process of health and wellness? I recently hosted a tweetchat on this topic, and it came back to a main idea. Everyone—from patient to docs to vendors—has to get on board for these solutions to have any real meaning. If payers and physicians encourage patients to use these devices and provide incentives or data showing improved health, patients are more likely to get engaged.

Of course the barrier is that it takes time to get momentum for change in healthcare. Vendors that look for ways to make meaningful data from these devices and apps that can be safely and securely shared between patients and their providers and insurance payers will lead this growing trend.

In addition, healthcare providers need to prescribe wearables to patients they think may benefit. Today, the data may not be transmitted but patients can bring in data to review and discuss. As vendors find ways to transmit data, physicians can take that next step, but not until the raw wearable data can be transformed into actionable intelligence. For example, there are efforts to look at long-term heart rate variability as a predictor of serious cardiovascular events. In this scenario the provider gets a single alert based on 100 gigabytes of raw wearable data.

The usefulness of wearables will likely be dependent on a coordinated effort between vendors, patients, providers, and payers. Until then, they are cool and fun, but useful across the spectrum of healthcare.

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