One of the biggest opportunities for improving patient care lies in finding ways to gauge patient health in between visits. Because remote patient monitoring devices offer providers an opportunity to look into the condition of a patient at any time, the otherwise inaccessible health status of a patient in the time between visits becomes another tool for proactive treatment over reactive treatment. Additionally, remote patient monitoring devices play a significant role in the development of telehealth as an alternative to traditional care models.
The 2016 report “Smart Wearables in Healthcare, 2016-2030” by Research and Markets projects growth in the market for smart wearables in healthcare at an annualized rate of 13.6% over the course of the next 15 years. Supporting this growth, a recent survey by HealthcareITNews indicates that these technologies are an important priority for healthcare organizations. Of the 95 healthcare organization executives surveyed, 34% said that their organization planned to introduce or investigate remote patient monitoring in 2017.
The technology used for remote patient monitoring largely consists of dedicated medical devices; however, consumer wearables present an opportunity to further enhance and support these initiatives. According to one industry report, consumers have a high level of confidence in the ability of these devices to improve their health. The 2017 report “From Healthcare to Homecare” by Ericsson shows that 60 percent of the 4,500 mHealth and broadband users surveyed believe that wearables will lead them to a healthier lifestyle.
The willingness of patients to adopt these devices along with the large amount of useful patient-generated data that can be created presents a significant opportunity. That being said, integrating and effectively using this data presents both the conventional challenges associated with incorporating a new data source along with new challenges unique to wearables.
The Challenges of Incorporating Data from Wearables
The use of remote patient monitoring does not currently appear to be widespread enough to present a serious problem with regard to data storage, but as these devices become an increasingly regular part of care, it may become
an issue. A more pressing issue that comes with this data is integrating it with a healthcare organization’s existing systems effectively and ensuring that sound governance and data management is in place. In the case of consumer wearables, data integration into the EHR presents new difficulties on top of those typically associated with incorporating patient generated health data.
Many devices, including wearables, are not equipped with the capability to easily transfer information to an EHR. While wearables aimed at the consumer market offer functionality for tracking vital signs and other health information, manufacturers are often forced to limit capabilities to avoid FDA designation as a medical device. If the product is considered a medical device, meaning that it is used for diagnostic, prescription, or preventative purposes for a disease, it requires FDA approval. To sidestep this, consumer devices resort to solely providing a feed of data rather than analyzing the data in any meaningful way.
Though this information is still a valuable asset for healthcare providers, healthcare organizations will likely be responsible for structuring and integrating data as well as developing dashboards to make the information accessible. Without this legwork, it is up to individual providers to sort through the raw information these devices provide. The availability of this data can ultimately improve providers’ picture of a patient’s health, but the extra time it takes for providers to review and dissect this information will call for some form of compensation or additional consideration on the part of the organization.
While these factors are real barriers to the effective usage of consumer wearables, the technology’s steady adoption suggests that device, software, and EHR vendors will begin to work more cooperatively to drive the smooth integration of these devices into the current health IT ecosystem. To prepare for the usage of consumer wearables, healthcare organizations stand to benefit by focusing on the creation of sound data governance strategies and the effective incorporation of currently available data.