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Making Wearables Valuable to Medical Practices: Page 2 of 4

Making Wearables Valuable to Medical Practices: Page 2 of 4

Ledger, like others, says doctors today — even though they say wearables can support good health habits —generally find the data feeds coming off of them too cumbersome to weed through for useful insights. Other physicians still question the accuracy of some devices. Such worries, Ledger says, prevent physicians from asking for such information.

Degrees of connection

Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, vice president of Connected Health at Partners HealthCare in Boston, divides healthcare wearables into several different use cases.

First are medical-grade devices which many medical institutions incorporate into their procedures. In these cases, patients receive a wearable, such as a heart monitor, that  gather and transmit to their care teams needed information for a diagnosis or monitoring after a hospital stay to help prevent re-admission.

Then there are patients who use a connected device at home to collect information requested by their doctors. These cases, Kvedar says, generally involve patients using blood pressure cuffs, continuous glucose monitors, or even digital scales to monitor their conditions. Although many patients manually record and share the data with their physicians, some are beginning to electronically transfer the data instead.

The third use case involves the consumer wearables, where patients use trackers, smartwatches and similar devices to electronically monitor and record various health data, from sleep patterns to daily exercise levels to biometrics.

Kvedar says researchers have found value in the first two use cases, with wearables helping to cut readmission rates and improve patient conditions. The value of the third use case, however, isn't clear cut. He points out that many of the patients who use wearables tend to be those who are already active and don't need as much guidance from their physicians. They're not usually the patients whose sedentary lifestyles and poor health habits have them contending with chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

That in itself is a lost opportunity, health IT experts say. "It's a shame that these devices are marketed towards fit, wealthy Millennials, because the people who stand to benefit most are, in my opinion, those with chronic health conditions," says Phillips, who is also the wellness director at Boston-based RecycleHealth, a nonprofit that provides refurbished wearables to underserved populations to help improve their health and fitness.

Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine's Department of Public Health and Community Medicine and founder of RecycleHealth, led a study examining whether trackers could help adults with chronic conditions improve their health. In a paper published on the study in 2016 in JMIR Research Protocols, she reported that researchers saw improvements in clinical outcomes, attitudes toward trackers and physical activity among participants over a 12- to 14-week period.

Health IT experts say wearables give a more accurate account of the patient's daily activity vs. self-reporting. They also can provide useful biometric information, allowing the physician and patient to have a more targeted discussion about goals, accomplishments and improvements.

"If you have Type 2 diabetes, for example, you should be more active – walk more and track it. It used to be the doctor asks if the patient walked more, and the patient said yes; now we can say walk 10,000 steps a day, and we can see whether than happened and it's a much more meaningful conversation," says Kvedar.

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