Wearables and Healthcare: Keeping Your Patients in the Know

You’ve probably heard of the Apple Watch or Fitbit. Maybe you were even hoping to get one for Christmas this year. These devices are designed to track your health, including your heart rate, daily physical activity, sleep patterns, and your weight. However, the market for wearable healthcare devices is quickly expanding, making way for a new generation of wearables, such as remote patient monitoring, heart monitors, and reproductive cycle trackers. While some have argued that these devices may not be as reliable as once thought, they could end up improving clinical outcomes for patients.

Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between wearables and healthcare, so you can keep up with the latest trends in your industry.

Why Wearables?

Healthcare providers have always looked to data when treating their patients, and wearable healthcare devices expand upon this idea. With wearables, providers can monitor the health of their patients in real time. Patients can also take their health into their own hands by collecting data on their own habits and activities. There tend to be two different kinds of wearable technology: patient-centric wearables and provider-centric wearables.

Patient-centric wearables are meant to help individuals better monitor their own health, whether it’s how many steps they’ve walked that day, how much sleep they got that week, or whether a woman will start menstruating this week. Individuals may choose to disclose this information to their healthcare provider, but it’s mostly for their own personal use.

Provider-centric wearables help providers better manage the health of their patients. Providers will prescribe pieces of technology for their patients if they’re struggling with their weight, recovering from surgery, or dealing with a chronic condition at home. Providers can use these devices to improve patient outcomes by learning as much as they can about the health of their patients. They can ensure their patients are taking their medications, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy diet.

The Latest in Wearable Healthcare Technology

Tech companies all over the world are researching, investing in, and releasing new wearable healthcare devices. These devices have exploded in popularity over the last few years, and tech developers are looking to cash in. According to research from Business Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology. On the clinical side, tech companies are looking to invest in one of the biggest industries in the world: healthcare. Everyone needs healthcare at some point in their lives, and creating a practical wearable medical device could help propel the industry forward.

Here are just some recent examples of what this technology can do:

  • A new app called Ava can track women’s menstrual cycles, helping them learn more about their fertility, sleep, resting heart rate, pregnancy, and their overall health.
  • Developed by AliveCor, KardiaMobile is an electrocardiogram (ECG) that attaches right to the user’s smartphone. It uses chest and finger sensors to monitor heart activity. Both providers and patients can use this product.
  • My Skin Track UV uses a tiny sensor to monitor the user’s exposure to UV rays, pollen, humidity, and air pollution. It’s great for those with sensitive skin, allergies, or anyone who’s worried about the quality of the air they breathe.
  • TempTraq uses a soft, padded Bluetooth sensor to track the temperature of infants during illness. Parents can install the sensor in the crib to monitor the temperature of their children in real time. If the baby’s temperature gets too high, the parents can contact a healthcare provider or take them to the emergency room.

Potential Concerns

As convenient as these devices can be, wearables present new concerns in the healthcare industry. Here are some potential issues to keep in mind as you or your patients start wearing this technology.

  • Privacy Issues

As a user, your private health information may fall into unexpected hands. Some of these tech companies and developers may be unfamiliar with patient privacy laws. Furthermore, some of these devices fall outside the realm of healthcare, which means HIPAA and other federal laws do not apply. Use caution when uploading information to the cloud. Make sure you know who has access to your health information and whether this information could put you at risk.

  • Unreliability

It’s best to do your research before buying a wearable device for yourself, a loved one, or prescribing one to your patients. Some of these devices are more accurate than others when it comes to recording health information. For example, the menstrual tracking app Ava currently offers “an average of 5.3 fertile days per cycle with an accuracy of 89%.” Leave room for error when analyzing your own health data or those of your patients.

  • Too Much Data

Some have also worried that putting wearable devices in the hands of consumers can lead to over-reporting. Our lives are already inundated with a great deal of digital information. In order to make sense of healthcare data, it needs to be presented to the user in a coherent way. Consumers and providers simply don’t have time to read through pages of data every week.

Patients may also use this data to develop their own theories about their health. As a provider, some of your patients may start referring to their Fitbit or smart watch during a consolation. They may pay more attention to these devices than their primary care provider. Other patients may prefer to use wearable devices instead of scheduling an appointment with their doctor. Overall, it may muddy the waters when it comes to monitoring our health.

We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wearable healthcare technology. Keep these ideas and trends in mind as you research these devices. Wearables aren’t meant to replace in-person consultations. Make sure you know the facts before prescribing these devices to your patients.

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