Wearables: A look to the future or a hyped-up fad?

As wearables become more common among patients, providers are faced with the question of how to use the massive quantities of data the devices generate.

Several major health IT vendors have jumped on the train to integrate data from wearable medical and fitness devices into their EHR systems — Cerner and MEDITECH have partnered with Durham, N.C-based Validic, and eClinicalWorks has partnered with healow. But are these devices just a passing phase, or should healthcare organizations invest in technology that includes the data they generate?

Healthcare executives at the HIMSS15 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago weighed in. We asked them: Are wearables a look to the future or a hyped-up fad?

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Continue to check back throughout the conference for more responses.

Timothy Smith, Principal and National Leader of Healthcare Information Technology, Deloitte: "We're going to find out quickly with Apple Watch. I think that they're here to stay. As it gets more pervasive and the technology becomes more robust — not just counting steps but getting into more biometric measuring, which Apple Watch theoretically does, and there are a couple other capabilities as we get into shirts that know about my sweat rate and things like that — you can definitely see a way of using that for chronic patients but also just in general wellness as long as there's something to do with that data. Is there a way of interacting with your hysician, and how will they actually use that data? It has a really cool factor, but it has to have a practical use that shows some results. I'm bullish on what it can do, but I'm also a bit pragmatic on thinking about will it actually be adopted? Will the right people adopt it or will it be the most fit who think it's a nice thing to have? Or, would you have your diabetic who really does need to use it?"

Kirk Elder, CTO, Wellcentive: "I think they're a glimpse into the future. We have a proof of concept with HealthKit. HealthKit does provide a better way to collect patient data, but I think there's something more to it. It really helps support disconnected data, and when I say disconnected, I'm not talking about payer or provider right now. I'm independent of those. I could go to any provider, but as an autonomous entity I can collect data and send that out in a standard format."

Stephen Gold, CMO of Watson and Vice President of Partner Programs and Venture Capital Investments, IBM: "I think wearables are really interesting because it's kind of a multi-pronged thought. It's raised our awareness of our own health. By physically having that device on my person, I'm thinking about health, about how to take care of myself. That's one. The second part is, what do I do with that data? I could consume it today readily, easily, but one of the exciting things about the partnership with Apple is that I can take that information and begin to think about what I'm going to do with that data. Through Apple's HealthKit, I'll be able to not only manage and track all of my sensory devices, including my insulin pump or other medical apparatus that I depend upon, but all of that will get consolidated, and then what's really neat is that I can then share that information with my primary care practitioner who can then monitor remotely waht's happening in my life and my health. He can also share that through the research community so that others can benefit and a crowdsource activity can be identified that health professionals can learn from my experience. As an individual, I find that very exciting. It will be a lot of data. We're not talking about gigabytes or terrabytes, wer'e talking about exobytes. But what's really interesting is not the singular point of data but what we can extract."

Anil Jain, MD, Senior Vice President and CMO, Explorys: "There's a true danger of information overload, especially for the clinician who is managing a complex patient. I think the clinician needs to see the exceptions as they happen. For example, let's say a wearable is capturing heart rate. What I don't need to know as a clinician is that every five minutes, the heart rate is normal. What I need to know is that for 10 minutes in the day, the heart rate is high and the patient had pressed a button telling us that he or she was jogging. You want to be able to discern the exceptions that might happen. What the clinician needs to be able to do very quickly is form an expert opinion on what the interpretation of that finding is."

Ed McCallister, Senior Vice President and CIO, UPMC: "They are absolutely a look to the future. I think right now it's all about the devices, the coolness of the devices and the newness of them. I think the real story is the data, because analytics is where the world is headed — not only in healthcare but in general. You go to the sporting goods store and you make a purchase, the next day you have a coupon for golf balls because you purchased golf clubs. The grocery store knows your buying habits. I think healthcare is a little behind, but I think wearable devices will actually accelerate analytics in healthcare."

Dick Daniels, Executive Vice President and CIO, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan (Oakland, Calif.): "I think the key is going to be how we handle the data coming from wearable devices. Some of that data I don't think physicians will want to see, maybe some other data is very valuable. Devices like glucometers — so someone doesn't have to come in [to the hospital] — those kinds of devices we think will add value. But I don't  know if physicians really want to know how many steps you take per day. I think [the question is] how do we sift through the data to pull out data that will be important for physicians?"

Ed Park, Executive Vice President and COO, athenahealth: Current wearables, for all intents and purposes, are going to be first generation. They're going to be interesting, but they will pave the way for devices that are real and more important. I look at them as first generation items, as early mover items that will be adopted by early movers. There will be a point where we'll get into the stage of mass adoption, and that will be more exciting. Right now most of them are parlor tricks.


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