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The impact of wearables

How wearable technology could fit in the future of health care

Quick: How many steps have you taken today?

If you checked your fitness tracker app or glanced at your wrist to see, you’re one of tens of millions of people driving the wearable technology craze.  

In fact, a 2013 study by a UK research firm found that by 2018, an expected 130 million people will be using wearable devices, ranging from smart watches and fitness trackers to glasses. More than 51 million new wearables were estimated to have been purchased last year alone.

And with wearable devices comes an abundance of data.

What does this data mean for health care?

As medical records continue moving to electronic formats, there will be an opportunity for the data from wearable devices to plug directly into a patient’s electronic health record.

However, Dr. Richard Capps, Novant Health senior vice president of physician services and chief medical information officer, explained that the clinical use for this data is yet to be determined. Capps has had a big role in the implementation Novant Health’s online medical record, MyChart, which allows patients to log on and view their medical record, email their doctor and schedule appointments online.

“The technology is really cool,” Capps said about wearable devices. “But the provider’s perspective on the clinical usefulness of a step count remains to be seen.”

Capps noted that a closer look at how much a patient exercises and sleeps would be helpful and could lead to a more holistic plan created for the patient.

“The challenge is how we’ve done that before is by asking the patient,” he said. “The question we have to ask now is do these devices bring a new found accuracy to what a patient would tell you they were doing in terms of exercise and sleep as example of potential information?”

Capps also said patients will have to become more comfortable sharing their personal information collected by wearables. This technology is still fairly new, and some people may not be comfortable sharing such details.

Where the data-sharing trend could lead

There are some ways sharing your data with your physician could be beneficial.

“We may be able to use analytics to predict who could be more high-risk for chronic diseases,” Capps said.

Capps predicted devices in the future will cover more than just the basics. Future wearable devices will capture data such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

In the past, most of this kind of data has been entered manually. Capps said the data will eventually become more integrated and all the data would live in central places, such as Apple Healthkit, Google Fit or something yet to be invented, where it is automatically updated to an integrated health record.

Where we are now

Although there hasn’t been a large scale research study pointing to the outcomes and use of these types of devices to manage patients or improve outcomes, it’s evident that wearable devices are holding more people accountable when it comes to how much activity one gets in a day.

If nothing else, these wearable devices are great motivators, especially when it comes to fitness, Capps said.

“I think the utility of really raising awareness, being engaged with your health and your provider and being reminded to stay active is one of the most valuable things,” he added. “It can almost be an internal peer pressure when you see you’re not being active.  Physicians are really excited about any tool that can help keep our patients healthy and active.”

Published: 1/29/2015

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