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The Digital Challenge: The Impact of Wearables on Providers

The tech gifts available during this year’s Holiday Season, like the Amazon Echo, Fitbit, Apple Watch and Playstation VR, provide a mixture of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, natural language processing, biometrics and more. Not to be outdone, the makers of refrigerators, laundry appliances, doorbells, security systems and other consumer electronics are also manufacturing devices that fill the home with an impressive array of technology.

Consumers are being surrounded at home with products that provide rich experiences in voice-activated, sensor-automated, and algorithm-driven technology, so where does that leave us in healthcare? As individuals include wearable technology in their homes, shouldn’t we be including similar technology as part of care models? Reasons for not moving forward with technology in healthcare ring ever more hollow as the technologies are adopted in other parts of our lives.

Digital approaches to healthcare hold promise for quickly advancing our ability to serve patients. From Primary Care to Specialties and Ambulatory to Acute, the opportunities to advance treatment modalities, care programs and service models seem boundless. And, just in time, when we are in such need of advancements!

It is easy to imagine some objections that might be raised to using these technologies, so let’s consider them one by one.

#1 – HIPAA won’t allow us to… In the past, we have modified the contractual agreement with the patient for other purposes, such as research data, regulatory compliance, payer submissions, etc. If we decide the benefits would be great enough, the consumer would receive a new HIPAA Release covering new use and exchange of data terms.

#2 – We can’t rely on the data… Every day, we encounter data that may or may not be entirely correct. Data is gathered from all kinds of devices in the healthcare setting, and the precision of each device is often unknown. For example, weight scales must be continually calibrated to assure their accuracy, but do we know when the scale used in your Primary Care Physician’s office was last calibrated by a licensed weights and measures professional?

#3 – New devices require FDA approval… For some devices, yes, FDA approval may be required before they could be incorporated. However, there are a myriad of processes that do not require approval to be used.

#4 – We can’t integrate the data…. While this may have been true in the past, the world has moved forward in standardizing data, allowing for easier integration. The old barriers of competitive differentiation through proprietary data are being quickly erased in favor of competing on the breadth of integration that can be achieved easily, seamlessly, without the interaction of a human.

#5 – We can’t really know that the data is from this person…. While this is likely the most legitimate concern of all expressed, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility that must be included with the adoption of any system. For example, when a medication is prescribed, we never really know that a patient took it as instructed, yet a new lab is taken and renewals are prescribed.

#6 – Payers won’t pay for it… Does the payer pay for the EHR? Do payers pay for the billing system? Do payers pay for the scheduling system? What about stethoscopes, scales and blood pressure cuffs? Payers cannot pay for each business practice—there are other ways to calculate ROIs for deployment of technology.

Pressures on the healthcare system require that we thoughtfully consider ways to move forward. For the CIO in healthcare, the changing landscape requires new strategies. Consider a few critical shifts in thinking in order to prepare your organization:

  • Define an agile health technology platform for your organization, including data exchange strategies related to commercially available devices.

  • Take a hard look at the contemporary methods for confirming identity used by other highly regulated industries (banking, insurance, etc.) and develop a fully electronic method to establish data exchange.

  • Stop valuing DATA and begin valuing methods of USING DATA. As you consider engaging with wearable data, don’t value the detailed, discrete stream, rather value the reporting, similar to a lab report to a Physician.

  • Redefine the core value of your technology teams.

  • Begin investing your time in Medical Review Committees and Clinical Operations Committees, not in an effort to create controls around the flow of data, but in an effort to understand the needs, perspectives and emerging trends coming from the patient care arena.

With the new and powerful computing methods targeting individualized consumer needs, new advancements are in reach to serve chronic and acute populations in new ways. The emerging number of health and fitness devices on the wrists of patients entering the Primary Care Practice offers an opportunity to examine their current state in a low risk manner and begin mapping alternative methods of serving these patients.

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