What’s Holding Physicians Back from Making the Wearables Leap?
By Waqaas Al-Siddiq
While wearables are being readily adopted by consumers as an integral part of their wellness and fitness regimens, integration into healthcare and the use of wearables in clinical settings has been much slower. There is some reluctance on the part of physicians to integrate wearables into patient care. It is not that physicians are averse or unreceptive to wearables, and it certainly is not their lack of understanding that wearables have the ability to transform patient care and healthcare management. In fact, physicians are well aware of how wearables can assist in long-term assessment and monitoring of patients. They realize its value in providing personalized care. The crux of the problem is that physicians are uncertain of wearables and their place in today’s healthcare landscape.
While wearables have the capacity to provide ample amounts of data, physicians do not always have the time to sift through pages and pages of that data to find applicable information. However, pertinent information does not necessarily translate to clinically relevant information. i.e. data that is medically meaningful. Even if clinical relevance were to be achieved, there is another hurdle in the form of integrating and interfacing data into existing workflows. The challenge for wearable manufacturers is to develop products that not only can be clinically validated and seamlessly integrated into existing physician workflows, but that also understand and address a physician’s concerns.
How Wearables Are Poised to Disrupt Healthcare
As I mentioned, physicians already understand that the benefits of wearables, both fiscally and in terms of patient care and long-term health management, are multifold. The integration of wearables into healthcare practices has the ability to reduce patient visits, as physicians will be able to remotely monitor and track patient health. Through data obtained from wearables, physicians will be able to assess the health of the patient and determine whether the symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. This initial assessment has the potential to drive down rising healthcare costs, as patient visits for non-emergencies will be reduced.
Wearables will also pave the way for adoption of preventive care measures into mainstream healthcare practices. The current healthcare landscape is predominately reactive, where physicians diagnose and treat conditions and diseases after its manifestation. Physicians realize the usefulness of wearables in correlating symptoms and to diagnose conditions even before onset. Wearables will allow physicians to keep in touch with their patients and monitor their overall health – not just in cases where the patients are sick. Given these points, and regardless of their understanding of the benefits and challenges, why are physicians struggling to incorporate wearables into patient care?
Traditional Barriers to Adoption
Simply put, one of the biggest obstacles to adoption is due to a physician’s limited time, as they are already bombarded with too much information. Already overwhelmed, a typical physician will not have the interest or the time to sort through volumes of data collected by wearables, which may or may not be of value. Most of today’s wearable devices only correlate data derived from various metrics (e.g. caloric burn, step count, etc.), and to extrapolate from this data to find relevant information that can be used to diagnose or monitor a patient’s condition is time consuming and difficult. After all, a patient’s step count may not be obvious in how it relates to their heart condition. For physicians to utilize data from wearables, data needs to be separated and summarized, which again, due to time restraints, cannot be done by all medical professionals. In conjunction with developing wearables that utilize clinical-grade data, health technology companies must derive solutions that will make it easier for physicians to extrapolate the right patient data at the right time.
How Data and IT Integration is Key to Physician Acceptance
As they should, physicians place high importance on the quality of data coming from all sources. Data from wearables is most often not medical grade and, in fact, several high-profile cases have recently highlighted the problems associated with the accuracy and integrity of this data. For wearables to be implemented into patient care, they need to have the capacity to produce medically relevant, clinical-grade data. While this will be the first and foremost step to integrating wearables into patient care, simply providing clinical-grade data will not be enough. Physicians need to see data that not only is clinically relevant but that will also measure clinical improvement, as monitoring improvement is an important part of preventative care.
However, even if wearables were able to provide data that is pertinent and achieves clinical relevance, health technology companies must figure out how to develop an infrastructure that will enable the integration of wearables into the physician’s workflow. Doctors will not be able to do this themselves, so health technology companies and physicians alike must uncover how wearable technology can be utilized and deployed under different circumstances and and in different scenarios. This may prove to be the most challenging of issues, as there is a lack of clarity on the integration/interfacing process and it requires a core understanding of not only the technology but also the physician’s workflow.
Waqaas Al-Siddiq is CEO and Founder of Biotricity Inc. in Redwood City, CA.