Wearable Technology & Healthcare

Wearable technology is about to boom.  With the coming of wearable products such as Google Glass, Google Contact Lens, and Apple Watch, the decade-old trend of a healthier life and body can be amped up to with both instant and constant awareness of one’s health.

The wearable industry is on the cusp of a boom.

It is predicted to be a $30 billion dollar industry by 2018  with expected annual sales of 100 million devices by 2016.   This tells us that the general population is ready for the advanced technology to track our health and health information.  And even better yet, we don’t even have to manually enter the information – it is collected with minimal effort on the part of the individual.

What do we do with all that data that is being collected by these fantastical devices?

We know that the focus in the general healthcare setting is on electronic medical records (EMRs), especially with the onset of Meaningful Use and ICD-10 government initiatives. Our healthcare providers are absorbed, rightfully so, on the implementation and use of the EMR. Additionally, we have to ask, are those EMRs ready to receive data from these wearable devices? At this point in time, the reports from the industry tell us “No.”

Where will the data from these wearable devices go and what will it be used for?

Dr. Michael Blum from the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, stated:“It’s kind of a little naïve to think that a company that’s developing new sensor technology [is] also going to have the wherewithal to develop analytics for it,” Blum said. “And whether they’re going to have the scientific insights and background to know what’s relevant and then figure out what should get pushed to the clinician.”

Though EMRs have historically been designed to collect viable data, we are still in a stage where the analytics and reporting of the data are in a very early stage and primarily targeted to meet Meaningful Use and quality reporting requirements.

So if the EMRs aren’t processing the data who will be? In the article by Fred O’Connor in PC World, he reported that it will be the individuals or organizations working with independent companies or internally building their own applications to process the data.

This leads us back to the never-answered question of “Who’s data is it?” If the data is loaded to some database that these independent analytic applications are processing, we must ask a few questions.

  1. Since a person is contributing their health data to be used for reporting and not just for their own health purposes, should they be compensated?
  2. Should their data be sold to the highest bidder?
  3. How protected is that data?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we should figure this out. After all, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations have to be met.

Uses of the data vary.

One use appeals to me and my passion for public health. With the data from these wearable devices, we can track the community’s health and enable populations to be more proactive about the health of the community.  We can glean information on behaviors and their impact on disease states. Medication use is a potential, and already planned, for tracking of the data.  Just imagine the impact to the pharmaceutical companies in having information on the medication use and clinical results. That cholesterol medication you are taking and those annual cholesterol tests will provide the pharmaceutical company solid data to find out if their medications are truly living up to their advertising.

We are a world of technology and a culture of people that are managing their health. With that technology, we are able to take in data, process it and come out with an unimagined number of reports for an equally unimagined number of purposes. But we have to remember that the data is personal. We should be aware that we might not be to the point of a free sharing by the individuals for purposes that they don’t specifically approve of. Time will tell on the adoption, sharing and processing but in the meantime go ahead and enjoy those Google Glasses!

Want to learn more about wearable technology and how it can strengthen patient and provider communication? Check out this article on the revolutionary movement of wearable tech in healthcare today.

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