One in five adults owns a wearable fitness device. Their popularity is due in part to the fact that they have matured as devices, combining both fun and data collection into a single device. We are not far from being able to use that data for more than just setting fitness goals. It can also be used to inform medical professionals about the health of their patients.
There are growing demands on the healthcare system that could be somewhat alleviated if healthcare professionals had access to everyday data about their patients. “A significant opportunity exists to curtail these growing demands on our healthcare system by engaging patients in at-home medical management using emerging wireless sensor technology,” says Associate Professor Vijay Sivaraman, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales. The University is using an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant to work on making the data from wearables secure enough to integrate it into the mainstream health system. “This could allow doctors to monitor the health of patients in their own homes, or provide a greater level of detail to improve diagnosis and decision-making,” Sivaraman said.
From Wrist to Useful Data
For the data to be actionable, it not only has to be gathered, but also transmitted and analyzed. This creates two issues. The first is that the data must be transmitted securely; protecting the privacy of the user yet retaining the patient’s identifying information.
The second is that the data also must be analyzed. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon enable at least part of this process to be automated. This analysis will reveal lifestyle trends and health anomalies so patients and care providers alike can take appropriate action to alter behavior and detect issues that require medical intervention.
Personal Medical Records
Once transmitted and analyzed, this data can then be integrated into the patient’s electronic medical record (EMR). When the patient visits a health care professional they can access information about heart rate, levels of activity, and even sleep data to inform diagnosis, perhaps even eliminating the need for expensive tests.
Manufacturers of wearables are experimenting with gathering other data such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and more using integrated technology and remote sensors.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Healthcare professionals can monitor patients remotely who use wearable devices. Problems can be detected and even medication can be prescribed without the need for an office visit. Providers can also warn patients when symptoms indicate they may need to seek medical attention.
This is especially good news for diabetics and other patients whose symptoms would ideally be monitored in real time, and enables them to record test results without the need to write them down and deliver that information to their doctor.
The data provided by wearable devices can improve insurance coverage as well. Companies can use it not only to predict outcomes and adjust premiums, but to incentivize those insured to make healthier choices. These incentives can include reduced premiums and bonus discounts for reaching fitness milestones.
Ultimately, patients will drive the use of wearables and help professionals determine the healthy balance between data sharing, privacy, and security. As the use of fitness trackers increases, data will become more actionable for healthcare providers.
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