5 considerations for hospitals implementing wearable technology

From Fitbits to Apple watches, wearable health-related technology has been gaining traction in the consumer market — but does it have a place in the healthcare industry?

In a presentation at Becker's Hospital Review 5th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, three medical technology experts spoke on the evolution of wearable technology and how it can impact healthcare.

Here's what they had to share:

1. Physician acceptance. Concerns about data saturation have led some physicians to be hesitant about introducing monitoring technology to patient care, according to Katie Ruigh, senior vice president of product management at Boston-based American Well.

"There is definitely concern, from the provider community, about this notion of the 'flood gates,'" she said.

To address this issue, Meredith Harper, chief information privacy and security officer at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, suggested that integrating wearable technology should be an initiative driven by operation and patient-care experts, rather than IT executives.

"You have to engage the provider community in what information is going to be pertinent to them," Ms. Harper said. "If we can't get our arms around that, any roll out of anything like this is going to be a failure, because our providers won't understand what's being provided to them."

2. Patient compliance. While wearable technology has the potential to improve patient care, this goal will only materialize if patients are comfortable adhering to protocol.

"The idea around 'Who's watching me? Who's paying attention? Where is this going?' There is that kind of 'big brother' idea," Ms. Harper said. "There's a huge cultural piece to this that has to be addressed, in terms of how people like to be monitored and how they like to be engaged."

However, as wearable technology continues to gain acceptance inside and outside of healthcare, there is the potential for this attitude to evolve with the industry. "I think [patients] are going to become more accustomed to it," said R. Brent Wright, MD, associate dean of rural health innovation and associate professor in the department of family and geriatric medicine at University of Louisville (Ky.) School of Medicine.

3. Security concerns. Cyberattacks and data breaches against healthcare organizations have accrued significant news coverage, bringing cybersecurity to the forefront of many healthcare executives' minds.

"There are controls you have to have within our EHR world, but do we have the same level of controls within this technology space when it comes to wearables? Truthfully, we don't," Ms. Harper said.

She noted that, should patient data from wearable technology — like Fitbits and Apple watches — become integrated into the EHR space, the healthcare industry will have to consider whether adding controls to the devices is necessary. To protect patient information in data collection devices, particularly those within the Internet of Things, Ms. Harper suggests focusing on protecting the data itself, rather than the device that the data sits on.

"It's almost impossible for us to control every endpoint that's connected to our network," she said. "If we get away from trying to control the endpoint, that gives us a better understanding of how we can actually manage the data, no matter where it resides or how it traverses through the network — through an app, through a portal or through a secure connection."

4. Patient trust. As a chief information privacy and security officer, Ms. Harper also warns how public perception of cyberbreaches — even those that occur outside of a hospital, such as at the site of a vendor partner — can erode patient trust.

"If we have manufacturers and we have applications that are exposed, are patients really going to see that as the application?" she said. "We find ourselves getting into these conversations with patients, trying to help them understand what control we have over the protection of their data, and what control others have — and should have — over the protection of their data.

"We have to make sure we are educating our patients about who owns the data," she continued.

5. Expanding demographics. At present, wearable technology tends to focus on the "worried well," according to Ms. Ruigh; however, when bringing these devices into the hospital setting, successful executives should consider how other populations will interact with it.

"Some of the commonly thought about wearables are catered to the fit population; the folks who enjoy tracking their steps," she said. "But where we really need to focus, where this will have a lot more impact, is the population that doesn't necessarily feel that impetus — who we want to monitor and manage, but who don't want to be monitored and managed."

To encourage chronically ill patient populations — like those with diabetes or hypertension — to engage with wearable technology, Ms. Ruigh notes the importance of both improved patient engagement and technological advancement.

One trend all three experts have noticed is companies working to seamlessly integrate biosensors into everyday objects, to become part of a patient's daily activities. "I think the sensors will get so small that we'll have technology embedded in clothing," Dr. Wright said.

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