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Challenging Physicians’ Digital Health Fears

Posted on September 12, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Like you, I thought I’d read everything about the reasons some doctors struggle with adopting digital health. Then, the following article showed up on my radar. While it covers some familiar ground, it’s a fairly nuanced take on physician objections to integrating digital health into their practice.

The article, “Top 10 Reasons Doctors Fear Digital Health,” comes from Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, a gastroenterologist and co-creator of the MyGiHealth app.  Given his digital health involvement, he obviously has a dog in the fight, but to my mind, that doesn’t detract from the value of what he had to say.

All ten of his observations make sense, but in the interests of brevity I’ll pick out a few that I found particularly interesting. Below, I’ve summarized some of the concerns expressed by his colleagues, then shared a condensed version of his responses:

“Use digital health devices in my practice? How the world will I have time to check all the data?”

His response:  We need to train a new type of specialist called a “digitalist” who will monitor, interpret and act upon remote patient data. They will reside in an e-coordination facility and remotely track data from biosensors, portals, apps and social media. (EDITOR’S NOTE: To see how an e-coordination center works today, check out this piece on the Mercy Virtual Hospital.) Their job will be to combine the data with clinical parameters and knowledge about the patient’s medical history then act on what they’ve learned.

* “What is my legal liability here? What if remote data show that somebody is doing poorly, but nobody checks it? What if the patient dies when there was clear evidence something bad was going to happen?”

His response: Until you have a digitalist watching your back, you cannot take responsibility – including legal responsibility – for monitoring, interpreting and acting upon the data. As I see it, that will be the digitalist’s responsibility.

* “Digital devices are cool, but most people quit using them before long. How could digital health make any difference if our patients refuse to use the stuff?

His response: To make inroads with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart failure or obesity, we need to change behavior. One way to achieve this comes from Joseph Kvedar at Partners HealthCare. Dr. Kvedar’s team not only personalizes its apps but hyper-personalizes them. By integrating everything from the time of day, step counts, local weather and levels of depression or anxiety, these apps can send pinpoint messages to patients at the right time and place. This approach may work to foster behavioral change.

* “How will digital health improve the value of care? Can it both improve outcomes and lower costs? Until it can prove that it can, insurance won’t pay for it.”

Proving that digital health solutions provide economic value to health systems is the toughest and yet most important obstacle to taking digital health into the mainstream. As more and more digital health solutions roll off the assembly line, we need to see them subjected to formal health-economic analysis as with any other medical innovation.

I don’t know about you, but I found this to be an intriguing discussion, especially the notion of a “digitalist” responsible for remote data management and response. I look forward to talking to Dr. Spiegel someday (perhaps at the Connected Health show!) and getting more of his insights.

Dogged By Privacy Concerns, Consumers Wonder If Using HIT Is Worthwhile

Posted on May 17, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I just came across a survey suggesting that while we in the health IT world see a world of possibilities in emerging technologies, consumers aren’t so sure. The researchers found that consumers question the value of many tech platforms popular with health execs, apparently because they don’t trust providers to keep their personal health data secure.

The study, which was conducted between September and December 2016, was done by technology research firm Black Book. To conduct the survey, Black Book reached out to 12,090 adult consumers across the United States.

The topline conclusion from the study was that 57 percent of consumers who had been exposed to HIT through physicians, hospitals or ancillary providers doubted its benefits. Their concerns extended not only to EHRs, but also to many commonly-deployed solutions such as patient portals and mobile apps. The survey also concluded that 70 percent of Americans distrusted HIT, up sharply from just 10 percent in 2014.

Black Book researchers tied consumers’ skepticism to their very substantial  privacy concerns. Survey data indicated that 87 percent of respondents weren’t willing to divulge all of their personal health data, even if it improved their care.

Some categories of health information were especially sensitive for consumers. Ninety-nine percent were worried about providers sharing their mental health data with anyone but payers, 90 percent didn’t want their prescription data shared and 81 percent didn’t want information on their chronic conditions shared.

And their data security worries go beyond clinical data. A full 93 percent responding said they were concerned about the security of their personal financial information, particularly as banking and credit card data are increasingly shared among providers.

As a result, at least some consumers said they weren’t disclosing all of their health information. Also, 69 percent of patients admitted that they were holding back information from their current primary care physicians because they doubted the PCPs knew enough about technology to protect patient data effectively.

One of the reason patients are so protective of their data is because many don’t understand health IT, the survey suggested. For example, Black Book found that 92 percent of nurse leaders in hospital under 200 beds said they had no time during the discharge process to improve patient tech literacy. (In contrast, only 55 percent of nurse leaders working in large hospitals had this complaint, one of the few bright spots in Black Book’s data.)

When it comes to tech training, medical practices aren’t much help either. A whopping 96 percent of patients said that physicians and staff didn’t do a good job of explaining how to use the patient portal. About 40 percent of patients tried to use their medical practice’s portal, but 83 percent said they had trouble using it when they were at home.

All that being said, consumers seemed to feel much differently about data they generate on their own. In fact, 91 percent of consumers with wearables reported that they’d like to see their physician practice’s medical record system store any health data they request. In fact, 91 percent of patients who feel that their apps and devices were important to improving their health were disappointed when providers wouldn’t store their personal data.

The Disconnect Between Where Wearables Are Needed and Where Wearables are Used

Posted on April 21, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

No one can argue that we haven’t seen an explosion of wearable devices in the healthcare space. In most cases, they’ve been a consumer purchase, but there are a few cases of them being used clinically. While we’ve seen a huge uptick in wearable use, there seems to be a massive disconnect between those who use them and those who need to use them.

This was highlighted to me recently when I heard someone say that at the recent Boston Marathon they predicted that almost every athlete running the Boston Marathon had some sort of tracking device on them to track their running. Runners love to track everything from steps to heart rate to speed and everything in between. I wish the Boston Marathon did a survey to know what devices the runners used. That would be a fascinating view into which wearables are most popular, but I digress.

When I heard this person make this observation, I quickly thought “That’s not who we need using wearables if we want to lower the cost of healthcare.”

With some exceptions, those who run the Boston Marathon are in incredible shape. They exercise a lot (maybe too much in some cases) and most of them eat quite healthy. These are the outliers and my guess is that they’re not the people that are costing our healthcare system so much money. That seems like a fair assumption to me.

Yes, the people we need using these wearables are those people sitting on the couch back at home. We need the unhealthy people tracking their health, not healthy people. While not always the case, unhealthy people don’t really want to track their health. What’s more demotivating to your healthy goals than being in a FitBit group with a marthon runner that always destroys you?

This is a challenging psychological problem that I haven’t seen any wearable company address. I guess there’s too much money to be made with healthy people that want to track themselves that they don’t need to dive into the psychological impact of wearables on unhealthy people. However, that’s exactly what we’re going to need to do as wearables become more clinically relevant and can help us better understand a patient’s health.

AMA Approves List Of Best Principles For Mobile Health App Design

Posted on November 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The American Medical Association has effectively thrown her weight behind the use of mobile health applications, at least if those apps meet the criteria members agreed on at a recent AMA meeting. That being said, the group also argues that the industry needs to expand the evidence base demonstrating that apps are accurate, effective, safe and secure. The principles, which were approved at its recent Interim Meeting, are intended to guide coverage and payment policies supporting the use of mHealth apps.

The AMA attendees agreed on the following principles, which are intended to guide the use of not only mobile health apps but also associated devices, trackers and sensors by patients, physicians and others. They require that mobile apps and devices meet the following somewhat predictable criteria:

  • Supporting the establishment or continuation of a valid patient-physician relationship
  • Having a clinical evidence base to support their use in order to ensure mHealth apps safety and effectiveness
  • Following evidence-based practice guidelines, to the degree they are available, to ensure patient safety, quality of care and positive health outcomes
  • Supporting data portability and interoperability in order to promote care coordination through medical home and accountable care models
  • Abiding by state licensure laws and state medical practice laws and requirements in the state in which the patient receives services facilitated by the app
  • Requiring that physicians and other health practitioners delivering services through the app be licensed in the state where the patient receives services, or will be providing these services is otherwise authorized by that state’s medical board
  • Ensuring that the delivery of any service via the app is consistent with the state scope of practice laws

In addition to laying out these principles, the AMA also looked at legal issues physicians might face in using mHealth apps. And that’s where things got interesting.

For one thing, the AMA argues that it’s at least partially on a physician’s head to school patients on how secure and private a given app may be (or fail to be). That implies that your average physician will probably have to become more aware of how well a range of apps handle such issues, something I doubt most have studied to date.

The AMA also charges physicians to become aware of whether mHealth apps and associated devices, trackers and sensors are abiding by all applicable privacy and security laws. In fact, according to the new policy, doctors are supposed to consult with an attorney if they don’t know whether mobile health apps meet federal or state privacy and security laws. That warning, while doubtless prudent, must not be helping members sleep at night.

Finally, the AMA notes that there are still questions remaining as to what risks physicians face who use, recommend or prescribe mobile apps. I have little doubt that they are right about this.

Just think of the malpractice lawsuit possibilities. Is the doctor liable because they relied on inaccurate app results collected by the patient? If the app they recommended presented inaccurate results? How about if the app was created by the practice or health system for which they work? What about if the physician relied on inaccurate data generated by a sensor or wearable — is a physician liable or the device manufacturer? If I can come up with these questions, you know a plaintiff’s attorney can do a lot better.

AMA Touts Physician Interest In Digital Health Tools

Posted on October 13, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A few months ago, the group’s annual meeting, American Medical Association head Dr. James Madara ignited a firestorm of controversy when he suggested that many direct to consumer digital health products, apps and even EMRs were “the digital snake oil of the early 21st century.” Madara, who as far as I can tell never backed down completely from that statement, certainly raised a few hackles with his pronouncement.

Now, the AMA has come out with the results of physician survey whose results suggest that community doctors may be more excited about digital health’s potential than the AMA leader. The survey found that physicians are optimistic about digital health, though some issues must be addressed before they will be ready to adopt such technologies.

The study, which was backed by the AMA and conducted by research firm Kantar TNS, surveyed 1,300 physicians between July 7 and 18. Its content addressed a wide range of digital health technologies, including mobile apps, remote monitoring, wearables, mobile health and telemedicine.

Key findings of the study include the following:

  • While physicians across all age groups, practice settings and tenures were optimistic about the potential for digital health, their level of enthusiasm was greater than their current adoption rates.
  • The majority of physicians surveyed (85% of respondents) believe that digital health solutions can have a positive impact on patient care.
  • Physicians reported that they were optimistic a digital health can reduce burnout, while improving practice efficiency, patient safety and diagnostic capabilities.
  • Physicians said liability coverage, data privacy and integration of digital health tools with EMR workflows were critical to digital health adoption, as well as the availability of easy-to-use technologies which are proven to be effective and reimbursement for time spent conducting virtual visits.

All told, physicians seem willing to use digital health tools if they fit into their clinical practice. And now, it seems that the AMA wants to get out ahead of this wave, as long as the tools meet their demands. “The AMA is dedicated to shaping a future when digital health tools are evidence based, validated, interoperable, and actionable,” said AMA Immediate Past President Steven J. Stack, M.D

By the way, though it hasn’t publicized them highly, the AMA noted that it has already dipped its oar into several digital health-related ventures:

  • It serves as founding partner to Health2047, a San Francisco-based health care innovation company that combines strategy, design and venture disciplines.
  • It’s involved in a partnership with Chicago-based incubator MATTER, to allow entrepreneurs and physicians to collaborate on the development of new technologies, services and products in a simulated health care environment.
  • It’s collaborating with IDEA Labs, a student-run biotechnology incubator, that helps to support the next generation of young entrepreneurs to tackle unmet needs in healthcare delivery and clinical medicine.
  • It’s playing an advisory role to the SMART project, whose key mission is the development of a flexible information infrastructure that allows for free, open development of plug-and-play apps to increase interoperability among health care technologies, including EHRs, in a more cost-effective way.
  • It’s involved in a partnership with Omada Health and Intermountain Healthcare that has introduced evidence-based, technology-enabled care models addressing prediabetes.

Personally, I have little doubt that this survey is a direct response to the “snake oil” speech. But regardless of why the AMA is seeking a rapproachment with digital health players, it’s a good thing. I’m just happy to see the venerable physicians’ group come down on the side of progress.

 

How To Choose Tools For Physician-Patient Engagement

Posted on September 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

To transition from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care, it’s pretty much a given that we have to do a better job of getting patients engaged with their physicians and overall plan of care. However, despite the array of intriguing digital health and mobile technologies we have available to get the job done, it’s still not clear exactly how to do it.

But according to one health IT exec, it all boils down to understanding how the various tools and technologies work and integrating them into your practice. Dr. Ali Hussam, CEO of outcomes data collection firm OBERD, suggests that the following tools are particularly important. I’ve listed his suggestions, and added some thoughts of my own:

  • Educational technologies: Physicians can use these tools to make sure patients are prepared to have an intelligent discussion of their health status, he notes. My take: It’s hard to argue that this makes sense; in fact, this concept is so important that I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned more often as part of the broader patient engagement picture.  
  • Electronic questionnaires: Hussam argues that since value-based care calls for quantifiable outcome measurements, it’s smart to use electronic questionnaires, which are more appealing, efficient and sophisticated than paper tools. My response to this is that while it’s a good idea, it will be important that the questionnaires be based on well-defined measures which the provider organization trusts, and these may not be easy to come by at first.
  • Wearables: Patients may already be using wearables to monitor their own health metrics, but it’s time to make better use of their presence, Hussam suggest. Physicians can step up their value by using the information to improve the quality of health discussions and intervene in response to the data if needed.  It’s hard to argue that he’s right about the potential uses of wearables. However, there’s a lot of doubt about their accuracy, so my sense is that many physicians are still reluctant to make use of them given the clinical accuracy questions which still bedeviled these devices.

Along with recommending these approaches to engagement, Hussam offers some tips for implementing patient engagement technology, including:

  • Focus on patient outcome: Hussam recommends sending a patient-determined outcome as the focus of care, and explaining to patients how engagement technology can help them meet this goal. Plain and simple, this sounds like an excellent idea, as patients are more likely to succeed at meeting goals they have embraced.
  • Solicit feedback: Effective engagement tools “should offer patients a sense of individual attention and intimacy by soliciting feedback about individual patients’ entire healthcare experience,” along with offering care data. He argues, I think compellingly, that this exchange of information could help providers succeed under merit-based incentive payment programs.
  • Encourage responses to questionnaires: As Hussam noted previously, providers must collect data to succeed at outcome-based payment models. But he also notes correctly that these questionnaires and help patients achieve their desired health outcomes by tracking what’s going on with their health. No matter how you couch things, however, patients may need additional encouragement to fill out forms. Perhaps it would make sense to have med techs go through the questionnaires with patients prior to their physician encounter, at least at first.

As Hussam’s analysis suggests, engaging patients isn’t just a matter of presenting them with shiny new technologies. It’s critical to align patient use of the technologies with goals they hope to meet, and to explain how the tools can get them there.

Otherwise, both patients and providers will see little benefit from throwing engagement tools into the mix.

Practice Fusion Founder Launches Wearables Startup

Posted on May 31, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Free EMR vendor Practice Fusion has always been something of a newsmaker. Since its launch in 2005, the company has drawn both praise and controversy for its revenue-generation approach, which has included the analysis and sale of de-identified patient data and advertising to physicians.

But it’d be hard to question Practice Fusion’s success, particularly given that it found its legs during a hyper-competitive period of EMR vendor growth capped by the Meaningful Use incentive program. Over the company’s lifespan, it has grown to serve over 110 million patients, and reportedly supported more than 70 million patient visits over 2015. It also attracted over $150 million in venture and private equity funding. Will it provide a great return for investors, time will tell, but they’ve definitely left their mark on the EHR industry.

At the helm of Practice Fusion until last year was CEO and Founder Ryan Howard. Howard – whom I’ve interviewed now and again over the years — certainly doesn’t lack for confidence or creative thinking. So I was intrigued to learn that Howard has stuck his toe into the wearables market. Clearly, Howard has not wasted time since August 2015, when he was booted out as Practice Fusion CEO. And if he believes a wearables startup can make money in this rapidly-maturing niche, I’m inclined to give it a look.

Howard’s new startup, dubbed iBeat, is creating a watch which constantly monitors and analyzes users’ heart activity. The device, which transmits its data to a cloud platform, can alert emergency medical services and, using an onboard GPS, provide the wearer’s location when a user has a heart attack or their heart slows down below a certain level. Unlike competitor AliveCor, whose electrocardiogram device can detect heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation, it has no immediate plans to get FDA approval for its technology.

iBeat expects to sell the device for less than $200, though if users want the emergency alert service they’ll have to pay an as-yet unnamed extra monthly fee. That puts it smack in the middle of the pack with competitors like the Apple Watch. However, the startup’s focus on cardiac events is fairly unusual. Another unusual aspect to the launch is that Howard is targeting the 50- to 70-year-old Baby Boomer market. (Imagine a more-focused version of the LifeAlert “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” service, which focuses on the 75-plus market, Howard told MobiHealthNews.)

My take on all of this is that there may very well be something here. As I wrote about previously, my own heart rhythm is being monitored by a set of devices created by Medtronic, a set-up which probably cost a few thousand dollars in addition to the surgical costs of implanting the monitoring device. While Medtronic’s technology is doubtless FDA approved, for not-so-serious cases such as my own a $200+ plus smart watch might be just the ticket.

On the other hand, I doubt that uncertified devices such as the iBeat watch will attract much support from providers, as they simply don’t trust the data. So consumers are really going to have to drive sales. And without a massive consumer marketing budget, it will be difficult to gain traction in a niche contested by Apple, Microsoft, Fitbit and many, many other competitors. Not to mention all the competitors in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” category as well.

Regardless of whether iBeat survives, though, I think its strategy is smart. My guess is that more-specialized wearables (think, I don’t know, iSugar for diabetics?) have a bright future.

Patients Favor Tracking, Sharing Health Data

Posted on February 3, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

To date, I’d argue, clinicians have been divided as to how useful medical statistics are when they come straight from the patient. In fact, some physicians just don’t see the benefit of amateur readings. (For example, when I brought my own cardiologist three months of dutifully-logged blood pressure and pulse readings, she told me not to bother.)

Research suggests that my experience isn’t unique. One study, released mid-last year by market research firm MedPanel, found that only 15% of physicians were recommending wearables or health apps to patients as tools for growing healthier.

But a new study has found that patients side with health-tracking fans. According to a new study released by the Society for Participatory Medicine, 84% of respondents felt that sharing self-tracking stats such as blood glucose, blood pressure, heart rate and physical activity with their clinician would help them better manage their health. And 77% of respondents said that such stats were equally important to both themselves and their healthcare professional.

And growing numbers of healthcare professionals are getting on board. A separate study released last year by Research Now found that 86% of 500 medical professionals said mHealth apps gave them a clearer understanding of a patient’s medical condition, and 76% percent felt that apps were helping patients manage chronic illnesses.

Patients surveyed by the SPM, meanwhile, seemed downright enthusiastic about health trackers and mobile health:

* 76% of adults surveyed would use a clinically-accurate and easy-to-use personal monitoring device
* 57% of respondents would like to both use such a device and share the data generated with a professional
* 81% would be more likely to use a consumer health monitoring device if their healthcare professional recommended such a device

Realistically, medical pros aren’t likely to make robust use of patient-generated data unless that data can be integrated into a patient’s chart quickly and efficiently. Some brave clinicians may actually attempt to skim and mentally integrate data from a health app or wearable, but few have the time, others doubt the data’s accuracy and yet another subgroup simply finds the process too awkward to endure.

The bottom line, ultimately, seems to be that patient-generated data won’t find much favor until hospitals and medical practices roll out technologies like Apple’s HealthKit, which pull the data directly into an EMR and present it in a clinician-friendly manner. And some medical pros won’t even be satisfied with a good presentation; they’ll only take the data seriously if it was served up by an FDA-approved device.

Still, I personally love the idea of participatory medicine, and am happy to learn that health trackers and apps might help us get closer to this approach. As I see it, there’s no downside to having the patient and the clinician understand each other better.

Consumers Take Risk Trading Health Data For Health Insurance Discounts

Posted on August 28, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

When Progressive Insurance began giving car owners the option of having their driving tracked in exchange for potential auto insurance discounts, nobody seemed to raise a fuss. After all, the program was voluntary, and nobody wants to pay more than they have to for coverage.

Do the same principles apply to healthcare? We may find out. According to a study by digital health research firm Parks Associates, at least some users are willing to make the same tradeoff. HIT Consultant reports that nearly half (42%) of digital pedometer users would be willing to share their personal data in exchange for a health insurance discount.

Consumer willingness to trade data for discounts varied by device, but didn’t fall to zero. For example, 35% of smart watch owners would trade their health data for health insurance discounts, while 26% of those with sleep-quality monitors would do so.

While the HIT Consultant story doesn’t dig into the profile of users who were prepared to sell their personal health data today — which is how I’d describe a data-for-discount scheme — I’d submit that they are, in short, pretty sharp.

Why do I say this? Because as things stand, at least, health insurers would get less than they were paying for unless the discount was paltry. (As the linked blog item notes, upstart health insurer Oscar Insurance already gives away free Misfit wearables. To date, though, it’s not clear from the write-up whether Oscar can quantify what benefit it gets from the giveaway.)

As wearables and health apps mature, however, consumers may end up compromising themselves if they give up personal health data freely. After all, if health insurance begins to look like car insurance, health plans could push up premiums every time they make a health “mistake” (such as overeating at a birthday dinner or staying up all night watching old movies). Moreoever, as such data gets absorbed into EMRs, then cross-linked with claims, health plans’ ability to punish you with actuarial tables could skyrocket.

In fact, if consumers permit health plans to keep too close a watch on them, it could give the health plans the ability to effectively engage in post-contract medical underwriting. This is an unwelcome prospect which could lead to court battles given the ACA’s ban on such activities.

Also, once health plans have the personal data, it’s not clear what they would do with it. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that health plans would have significant legal latitude in using freely given data, and might even be seen to sell that data in the aggregate to pharmas. Or they might pass it to their parent company’s life or auto divisions, which could potentially use the data to make coverage decisions.

Ultimately, I’d argue that unless the laws are changed to protect consumers who do so, selling personal health data to get lower insurance premiums is a very risky decision. The short-term benefit is unlikely to be enough to offset very real long-term consequences. Once you’ve compromised your privacy, you seldom get it back.

Wearables Data May Prevent Health Plan Denials

Posted on August 27, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

This story begins, as many do, with a real-world experience. Our health plan just refused to pay for a sleep study for my husband, who suffers from severe sleep apnea, despite his being quite symptomatic. We’re following up with the Virginia Department of Insurance and fully expect to win the day, though we remain baffled as to how they could make such a decision. While beginning the complaint process, a thought occurred to me.

What if wearables were able to detect wakefulness and sleepiness, and my husband was being tracked 24 hours a day?  If so, assuming he was wearing one, wouldn’t it be harder for a health plan to deny him the test he needed? After all, it wouldn’t be the word of one doctor versus the word of another, it would be a raft of data plus his sleep doctor’s opinion going up against the health plan’s physician reviewer.

Now, I realize this is a big leap in several ways.

For one thing, today doctors are very skeptical about the value generated by patient-controlled smartphone apps and wearables. According to a recent survey by market research firm MedPanel, in fact, only 15% of doctors surveyed see wearables of health apps as tools patients can use to get better. Until more physicians get on board, it seems unlikely that device makers will take this market seriously and nudge it into full clinical respectability.

Also, data generated by apps and wearables is seldom organized in a form that can be accessed easily by clinicians, much less uploaded to EMRs or shared with health insurers. Tools like Apple HealthKit, which can move such data into EMRs, should address this issue over time, but at present a lack of wearable/app data interoperability is a major stumbling block to leveraging that data.

And then there’s the tech issues. In the world I’m envisioning, wearables and health apps would merge with remote monitoring technologies, with the data they generate becoming as important to doctors as it is to patients. But neither smartphone apps nor wearables are equipped for this task as things stand.

And finally, even if you have what passes for proof, sometimes health plans don’t care how right you are. (That, of course, is a story for another day!)

Ultimately, though, new data generates new ways of doing business. I believe that when doctors fully adapt to using wearable and app data in clinical practice, it will change the dynamics of their relationship with health plans. While sleep tracking may not be available in the near future, other types of sophisticated sensor-based monitoring are just about to emerge, and their impact could be explosive.

True, there’s no guarantee that health insurers will change their ways. But my guess is that if doctors have more data to back up their requests, health plans won’t be able to tune it out completely, even if their tactics issuing denials aren’t transformed. Moreover, as wearables and apps get FDA approval, they’ll have an even harder time ignoring the data they generate.

With any luck, a greater use of up-to-the-minute patient monitoring data will benefit every stakeholder in the healthcare system, including insurers. After all, not to be cliched about it, but knowledge is power. I choose to believe that if wearables and apps data are put into play, that power will be put to good use.