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The Future of Healthcare: Advances in Wearable Technology

Written By: Kelly Buckman

By now, we’re all familiar with fitness trackers and their value in helping us meet our goals of getting and staying healthy. In fact, the number of connected wearable devices is expected to climb from an estimated 325 million in 2016 to over 830 million in 2020. That’s an increase of nearly 40% for a device that is primarily used to help people get and stay healthy.*

It stands to reason that this technology would be adopted by hospitals and healthcare providers to improve the quality of care, although the ramifications of such usage are far reaching. One example of beneficial use of wearable technology is tracking bracelets worn by doctors, nurses, and patients that can help capture data on the amount of time a patient spent in the waiting room, or the time a doctor spent in front of a computer. The data collected can then be used to improve patient workflows or reduce wait time, which can lead to a direct cost reduction per payment.

Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center in California is one such facility putting this technology to use. Each patient is given a numbered tag with a barcode to wear on the wrist. The tag is scanned into a system connected to software that keeps track of the patient’s location. The tracking system is used to locate patients who wander away from their rooms or are away from their rooms undergoing tests. Another benefit to the hospital is that it increases the rate of bed turnover, which allows the hospital to admit patients more efficiently. After the patient is discharged the tag is removed and placed in a drop box that automatically notifies housekeeping to get the room ready for the next patient. Eliminating the step of contacting housekeeping has reduced the time needed to assign newly admitted patients to a hospital room by over three hours, thus greatly improving patient flow.

The technology is used by other hospitals to track the amount of times high-risk patients come into the facility, and to send information about patients’ hospital stays to other providers, thus allowing patients to be treated more efficiently.**

Clearly, wearable technology has a solid place in the healthcare field, and it’s likely to play an increasingly important role in patient care in the future, not only for healthcare providers but for patients as well, who can use the technology to monitor their own progress in controlling conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Despite the potential benefits, however, there are obstacles that will need to be overcome before medical wearables gain widespread acceptance by the healthcare industry. The primary hurdles involve profitability and security.

-FDA approval is required in order for fitness/ wellness type wearables to be green lighted for use in a clinical setting. In order for the FDA to sign off, the data obtained must be deemed substantive and relevant. That is, it must be proven that use of the wearables will benefit patient health.

-As it stands, the value of wearables in diagnosing or treating health conditions is limited. Healthcare providers are not likely to risk misdiagnosing or mistreating a patient based on data that may be inaccurate. To overcome this obstacle, it must be demonstrated that the data obtained from wearables is highly accurate and consistent.

-As with much of today’s cyber technology, there is a security/ privacy risk associated with wearable devices. With so much health data readily available, users, healthcare providers, and the health technology community have become increasingly concerned that the information could be misused. Wearable technology companies will need to incorporate security and privacy mechanisms into their solutions in order to mitigate this risk and instill a greater sense of security among providers.

-Another serious obstacle to the widespread adoption of medical wearables in healthcare is how to incorporate the new technology into billing practices. To this end, in 2018, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start supporting providers who utilize remote patient monitoring tools, such as medical wearables and smart devices at home, and use patient-generated health data in care coordination and management. The rewarding of healthcare providers for the user of more “active devices” that provide real or near real-time patient generated health data to the provider or as automated feedback to the patient, is a major step towards true legitimization of medical wearables. With continued progress toward achieving clinical relevance through benchmarking and FDA approvals, the insurance and healthcare industry will be more apt to create billing mechanisms that will open the market for medical-grade wearables. New remote monitoring solutions are being added to existing healthcare diagnostic and billing systems, which will make it easier to track compliance and health outcomes.***

More than just a blip on the healthcare radar, wearable technology is likely to play an increasingly critical role in healthcare in the years to come, if we can meet the challenge of maximizing the efficacy of such devices, as well as ensuring HIPAA compliance, reliability, and profitability.

Kelly Buckman is a healthcare IT expert and field expert blogger for Barracuda Consulting.
Kelly has almost a decade of experience as a Technical Support Engineer/ Analyst in the field of Healthcare IT, over 20 years in IT Support, and several years of experience in Project Management. She has a B.A. from Mount Holyoke, Masters degree from UMass Amherst, and lists her skills as the ability to analyze and resolve various types of application, server and network issues, and to communicate complex ideas effectively.
She is also the mother of 3 sons, ages 19, 17, and 11, lives in western Massachusetts, and enjoys solving puzzles, reading, and travelling.

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