Smart Wearables in Healthcare – It’s the User Interface!

Patients are using wearable devices from fitness trackers to blood pressure cuffs to record their own healthcare data, and the number of patients doing so is expected to grow significantly.

The Smart Wearables in Healthcare, 2016-2030 report from research firm Research and Markets identified nearly 250 wearables in the medical field.

Most are activity/fitness trackers, but the report said companies increasingly are focused on more advanced wearables that produce data ranging from electrocardiograms to blood pressure readings to blood glucose numbers.

It also predicted that the overall market for smart wearables within healthcare will grow at an annualized rate of 13.6% over the next 15 years.

Physicians already are seeing an impact from the development and adoption of wearables.

More and more patients are able—and sometimes eager—to share the health-related data generated by activity trackers, digital glucose monitors, digital asthma inhalers and other such devices, said John Sharp, MSSA, senior manager of Personal Connected Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to support work in the wearables space.

“There are some doctors who politely say ‘no thank you,’ and some doctors are actually encouraging patients to utilize wearables and report back,” Sharp said.

According to Sharp and other experts, wearables can help improve healthcare outcomes, particularly for physicians working with patients trying to control chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Physicians who receive data such as blood sugar and blood pressure readings taken by wearables between visits can better determine how their patients are doing. That’s particularly important as the country moves to value-based care reimbursement, better incentivizing such monitoring. Experts said patient-generated data can help physicians better target treatments that produce better outcomes, which is the goal of value-based care.

Making data work for physicians

However, Sharp and others stressed that reaping such benefits is a challenge because data from wearables usually doesn’t flow seamlessly into electronic health record (EHR) systems physicians use to house, monitor and react to critical patient information. And even if data from wearables makes it into EHRs, it usually doesn’t appear in a format that physicians can use. Too often, experts said, wearables share the data in raw form, forcing physicians to hunt through it to find patterns or problems.

“The challenge is how to process and manage that data,” Sharp said.

Physicians, he said, don’t have time to scroll through dozens, or even hundreds, of data points to find relevant information.

“Where it will work best is when the data is presented in a dashboard format that’s easy for the physician to read and also when they can get alerts if something is out of whack,” Sharp said.

Most EHRs don’t provide such functionality today, he noted. However, intermediary software that works in conjunction with EHR systems does exist. Leading software options in this space allow patients to upload data from their wearables to a cloud-based application that then processes and presents the data to physicians via the EHR.

Work on this front includes a partnership between medical software company Validic and California-based Sutter Health, who are collaborating on a federal pilot project to determine how patient-generated health data can best be delivered to caregivers and researchers to improve outcomes.

Sharp said physicians need to keep their eyes on the horizon. Like the Research and Markets report, he predicted that the use of wearables will continue to grow. And, as a result, EHR vendors and other software makers will develop the functionalities needed for physicians to effectively and efficiently use the data being generated.

“I’m optimistic this change will occur and all that technology and workflow and team work will make it happen and will lead to improved healthcare,” he said.