Wearable and mobile technology is creating mountains of patient data, but is it actually helpful?
- The idea of wearable technology in healthcare is simple. Patients wear a device - bracelet, watch, ring, contact lens, special shirt - that has sensors built into it that can track any number of specific biometrics.
Last week, we reported on a study that found smartphone pedometer applications can be just as accurate as devices specifically designed to track steps. This, hypothetically, opens the door for improved patient engagement as patients have increased access to tools that can track their health. However, there is a downside to this, namely patients coming in with mountains of data they have collected on their own.
A recent report from NPR profiled the wearable technology boom in healthcare and raised an interesting question: can doctors actually use all of the data that patients can now collect? Essentially this is the other side of the coin.
If a doctor or other healthcare practitioner asks a patient to track their steps or get on a scale every day that will digitally take and transmit their weight back to the hospitals, it means they are ready and expecting that data and have an immediate plan for it. However, there are nearly 50,000 health applications on the market that use the biometric sensors built standard to collect health data. As WebMD has shown, some people will take access to personal medical information to extremes.
The report features an interview with Dr. Paul Abramson, a primary care doctor in San Francisco. He is not afraid of technology and admits that he “likes gadgets.” However, he admits that the amount of information patients can come in with can be overwhelming. He even mentioned one patient that brings pages of spreadsheets full of data which includes heart rate, symptoms and medications.
"Going through it and trying to analyze and extract meaning from it was not really feasible," Abramson said. "I get information from watching people's body language, tics and tone of voice," he says. "Subtleties you just can't get from a Fitbit or some kind of health app."
Another doctor interviewed in the piece, Dr. Michael Blum, mentioned that he and many colleagues get daily inquiries from technology startups that have new wearable and mobile technology that they are trying to sell.
“Their perspective is, 'You old doctors have kept things the same as they are for 50 years. We've got new technology and it's going to disrupt health care,'" Blum said.
While he agrees that change is coming, he does stress that all data is not good data.
“We can't make the leap that just because the data from these low-risk devices is coming in digitally doesn't mean that it's accurate," Blum said.