Health IT, Patient Engagement

‘Real challenges on the practical level’ to wearables in medicine

Devices have to produce accurate, actionable data on health that is easy to interpret, and they can’t create extra work for physicians.

Wearable Technology

Fitness trackers are mainstream and nearly ubiquitous, particularly among techie crowds, but wearables just haven’t taken off in medicine yet.

“There are some real challenges on the practical level,” Dr. Arun Villivalam, a family physician in Los Gatos, California, said Monday at the Health Technology Forum’s Innovation Conference in Palo Alto, California.

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For one thing, the adopters aren’t necessarily the right people who need the devices, particularly from the perspective of a primary care doctor. “The folks that come into my practice wearing wearables usually are the ones who are healthy,” said Villivalam, who also serves as senior clinical advisor to Capsico Health, a startup vendor of analytics technology for managing bundled payments.

“There is a difference between fitness and medical uses,” Villivalam added.

“When it comes to physicians, we’re very risk-averse,” according to Villivalam. “The other side to this is we’re desperate for change.”

He identified three major barriers to wider use of wearables in clinical practice:

  1. “You need to prove there is a system around it,” Villivalam said. That means that such devices have to produce accurate, actionable data on health that is easy to interpret.
  2. Clinicians don’t want extra work, including extra clicks within their electronic health records. “If it adds work to anyone on my healthcare team, that’s a big minus,” said Villivalam, a former physician executive at one of those EHR companies, namely Cerner.
  3. The question of who pays doctors for their time managing wearables data hasn’t really been answered yet. Villivalam called the argument that the technology will save time “a very dangerous slope” because not every physician is enthused about the prospect of seeing more patients.

If you’re trying to get it mainstream without those things, I think it’s tough,” Villivalam said.

Image: Infopik