Is Remote Monitoring Data A Blessing, Or A Distraction?

Posted on August 1, 2013 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 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 week, Venture Beat reported on some growing remote monitoring efforts in which a handful of Massachusetts hospitals are working to pull the data into their EMR. The hospitals are hoping to get their arms around a growing body of data which increasingly lives not only in wireless medical devices (such as glucometers and pulse oximeters) but also smartphones, smart wristbands, FitBit devices and other health-tracking technology.

One of the players involved in the new effort is Partners HealthCare, whose Center for Connected Health is focused on collecting and making use of such data. Its latest initiative sweeps patient data collected at home — such as blood pressure, weight and blood glucose — into the Partners EMR, making it accessible as part of routine clinical workflow. (The data collected by patients is transmitted wirelessly and automatically subsumed into the EMR.)  Patients can also review the data through a patient portal known as Patient Gateway.

According to Partners, this process is designed to change care delivery by allowing doctors to keep a close watch on patients when they’re not in the hospital or doctor’s office.

This is all well and good, especially for monitoring the chronically ill, whose condition may fluctuate dangerously and require timely intervention. But the question is, is this new flood of data going to be manageable for doctors?  Can a physician managing thousands of patients really give appropriate attention to every data point a FitBit or smartphone produces?  Certainly not.

Perhaps that’s why Kaiser Permanente recently told a conference that it was going to be rather picky as to what data flows into its EMR. According to Lead Innovation Designer Christine Folck:

“Don’t come to us telling us you can upload [data] into our electronic medical record. We don’t necessarily want it there. We have too much information in our electronic medical record. Kaiser Permanente was one of the first to go nationwide with our electronic medical record, we are fully integrated, but the problem is now everybody wants to upload into it. Our physicians don’t want it all there. They really don’t need to know how much exercise each of their patients is getting on a daily basis; they just don’t have time to process all of that.”

So, while there’s clearly benefit to tracking chronic conditions via remote monitoring, it seems clear that there will be some pushback from doctors, who can’t possibly absorb all of the data the healthier “quantified self” types are producing.  It looks to me like we’re going to have to narrow down what categories of data are actually helpful in an EMR and which aren’t.