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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.

Supercharged Wearables Are On The Horizon

Posted on January 3, 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.

Over the last several years, the healthcare industry has been engaged in a rollicking debate over the value of patient-generated health data. Critics say that it’s too soon to decide whether such tools can really add value to medical care, while fans suggest it’s high time to make use of this information.

That’s all fine, but to me, this discussion no longer matters. We are past the question of whether consumer wearables data helps clinicians, which, in their current state, are under-regulated and underpowered. We’re moving on to profoundly more-capable devices that will make the current generation look like toys.

Today, tech giants are working on next-generation devices which will perform more sophisticated tracking and solve more targeted problems. Clinicians, take note of the following news items, which come from The New York Times:

  • Amazon recently invested in Grail, a cancer-detection start-up which raised more than $900 million
  • Apple acquired Beddit, which makes sleep-tracking technology
  • Alphabet acquired Senosis Health, which develops apps that use smartphone sensors to monitor health signals

And the action isn’t limited to acquisitions — tech giants are also getting serious about creating their own products internally. For example, Alphabet’s research unit, Verily Life Sciences, is developing new tools to collect and analyze health data.

Recently, it introduced a health research device, the Verily Study Watch, which has sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. That might not be so exciting on its own, but the associated research program is intriguing.

Verily is using the watch to conduct a study called Project Baseline. The study will follow about 10,000 volunteers, who will also be asked to use sleep sensors at night, and also agreed to blood, genetic and mental health tests. Verily will use data analytics and machine learning to gather a more-detailed picture of how cancer progresses.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We are not looking at your father’s wearables anymore — we’re looking at devices that can change how disease is detected and perhaps even treated dramatically.

Sure, the Fitbits of the world aren’t likely to go away, and some organizations will remain interested in integrating such data into the big data stores. But given what the tech giants are doing, the first generation of plain-vanilla devices will soon end up in the junk heap of medical history.