Big Gap Exists Between Wearables Hype And Physician Use

Posted on January 12, 2018 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.

Not long ago, I wrote an article describing some major advances in wearables and health tracking technologies. Standout technologies included Grail, a cancer detection startup, Beddit, which makes sleep tracking technology, and Senosis Health, which developed apps using smartphone sensors to monitor health signals.

In the article, I argued that we’re past the question of whether wearables are valuable and that it’s time to focus on what we want to do with next-generation of superpowered health tracking devices instead. I was driven by stats like the ones produced by the Consumer Technology Association, which asserted last year that by 2020, physician use of patient-generated data will reach critical mass. It noted that wearables are being used more often in clinical trials and that some health insurers offering free wearables to patients, trends which it predicts will cause the market to explode.

But at least to some extent, I think the CTA (and I) were both wrong. As impressive as the new patient trackers are, they won’t be that valuable if nobody on the frontlines of medicine uses them. And even if trackers are being used in clinical trials or given away by health insurers, that doesn’t mean physicians are on board. The issue is not just whether devices work well, but whether doctors can actually use them in their daily care routine.

Recent stats suggest that few physicians actually use patient-generated data in their practice. In fact, the Physicians Practice Technology Survey found that just 5% of respondents reported that they use such such devices as part of their care routine.

I’m not surprised by this research. My own informal discussions with physicians suggest that the number of practices that actively use patient-generated data may be even lower than 5%.

Why are so few medical practices leveraging patient-generated data? The reasons are fairly straightforward:

  • Few of devices offer measurements that are consistent, predictable and valid
  • Vanishingly few are FDA-approved, which does little to inspire clinicians’ confidence
  • In most cases, the data produced by wearables and related devices isn’t compatible with practice EMRs

For what it’s worth, I do believe that many physicians — especially those with an interest in health IT– know that patient-generated health data will eventually play a valuable role in their practice. After all, in principle, there must be ways that such data could inform patient care.

But right now, the simple devices patients own aren’t sophisticated enough to serve practice needs, and most of the advanced patient tracking devices are at the idea or testing phase. Until patient tracking devices become more practical, and offer reliable, valid, usable data, they’re likely to remain a dark horse.