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The Required Shift in How Patients View Wearables

Posted on September 27, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is sponsored by Samsung Business. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We’ve all seen the explosive growth that’s occurred in the wearables market. The most extraordinary part of the wearables explosion is that the majority of wearables growth has been in the healthcare space. The problem we now see in healthcare is that most people don’t look at wearables as a disease management tool as much as they see them as lifestyle tools. This was described really well by Megan Williams on the Samsung Insights blog:

Perhaps the most challenging part of meeting that desire [Physician Access to Patients’ Lives and Health] is the fact that patients mostly view wearables as an aid in lifestyle improvement instead of disease management. The task of helping patients understand that wearables are about much more than weight loss will fall squarely on the shoulders of providers.

Patients have traditionally shown a preference for lifestyle apps including fitness, nutrition and heart rate aids, and have been much slower to adopt disease management tools, even as chronic disease remains a burden on healthcare as a whole. Encouraging the use of a broader range of wearables, digital tools and apps will be a challenge for any provider.

Changing habits and perceptions is always a challenge. However, it’s also a great opportunity.

No one would argue that today’s wearables are more than novelty items that may have some impact on your lifestyle (fitness, nutrition, etc). That’s largely because the initial wearables were designed around those retail areas of the market. It’s much easier to create a retail wearable device than to create a disease management focused healthcare device.

As the healthcare wearables market matures so will patients expectations around the benefits they can receive from those wearables. I think there are two main keys to development of wearables as true healthcare devices: Depth of Tracking and Connection to Providers.

Depth of Tracking
I’ve argued for a while now that all the various fitness trackers were not clinically relevant. I still believe that today, but I also believe that wearables like the various fitness trackers will start tracking us in ways that are clinically relevant. That just takes a lot longer to develop.

Whether it’s new trackers that screen for sleep apnea or ECGs that monitor our heart, we’re seeing more and more wearable devices monitoring data that’s more clinically relevant than the number of steps you’ve taken. This trend will continue. As wearables more deeply track various parts of the human body, the opportunities to understand your health and improve your health will follow along with it. This will provide doctors the impetus to request access to your wearable data.

The deep data these wearables will provide will challenge the tried and true beliefs healthcare holds so dearly today. That can be scary for some, but is also very exciting.

Connection to Providers
While wearables will provide the data, we’ll still want to consult a healthcare provider to understand the data and to create a plan of action based on that data. At least in the foreseeable future, our health will depend on collaboration with healthcare providers as opposed to a replacement of healthcare providers. This will be particularly true as the type of data our wearables collect gets more complicated. Understanding your step chart is quite different than understanding your ECG.

In order to facilitate this collaboration, our wearables will have to be connected to our care providers. Note that I said care providers and not doctors. In some cases it might be our doctor, but in other cases it could be a nurse, care manager, social worker, or some other care provider. I’m hopeful that we eventually reach the point of a true care team that collaborates on our health. That’s a far cry from where most of our healthcare is today, but that is the hope.

If we can solve these two wearable challenges: Deeper Data and Connected Providers, then we’ll be well on our way to changing how patients view wearables. This shift won’t happen over night, but I believe it will happen a lot quicker than most people imagine.

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Is Fitbit a Digital Health Solution?

Posted on January 6, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As I’ve been making the rounds of Digital Health at CES (technically the show officially starts today), I’ve run into an extraordinary amount of digital health sensors and tracking devices. Some of them are me too copycats of the already flooded fitness trackers. Others are doing really incredible stuff around ecg, muscle mass, respiratory, heart rate, and much more.

One conversation that I’ve had multiple times is that Fitbit and Fitness trackers like it really aren’t a digital health solution. This isn’t really said as a knock to Fitbit. Almost always this statement is proceeded by a comment about how Fitbit has done some really great things. However, the question really revolves around whether Fitbit is a healthcare application or whether it’s just a fun consumer device.

There’s no argument that Fitbit has been extremely successful. It’s also created mainstream interest in tracking your health. As a consumer application it’s been a big hit. The numbers don’t lie. However, many would equate what it’s accomplished in healthcare to something like the Wii Fit as opposed to something that impacts clinical care like a medical device. It’s more of a game that provides some health benefits than it is a clinical device. I even heard one person take it as far as to compare it to running shoes. If you did a study, running shoes probably improve the health of many people since it makes it easier to exercise. Does that make it a health solution?

Like I said, I don’t think anyone is arguing that what Fitbit is doing is bad. I also can’t remember Fitbit ever really claiming to influence clinical care. It’s the rest of the world that’s drawing that conclusion for them. Countless are the number of articles that talk about a patient sharing their Fitbit data with their doctor.

In response to those articles doctors have generally responded, why do I care about their Fitbit data? I think the reason doctors react this way is because the Fitbit data is limited and really doesn’t affect the clinical care for most people. Maybe there’s some isolated cases, but for the majority of Americans it wouldn’t change the care they receive.

While this is true for Fitbit, there is a wave of other tracking devices that could (and I believe will) impact clinical care. It’s easy to see how a continuous ecg monitor that’s FDA cleared (ie. Doctors trust the data) could impact clinical care. This is actually true clinical data that doctors will care about seeing.

At this point I think it’s true that majority of doctors don’t want to get your Fitbit data. It’s not clinically relevant. However, that’s going to change rapidly as health sensors continue to evolve. Maybe Fitbit will find some clinical relevancy in the data they produce. If not, a wide variety of other vendors are going to create clinically relevant data that doctors will not only want in their EHR, but they’re going to demand it.

The only question I have now is, should we be building the highways for that data now so that we can easily turn on these new sources of clinically relevant data?

Side Note: I’ll be doing a Digital Health video blab from CES 2016 if you’d like to join.