Many providers are using, piloting or evaluating wearable technology in healthcare for wellness programs or population health applications -- particularly for monitoring patients with chronic conditions.
But, beyond the debate of the usefulness of wearable-produced data, the cost of the devices appears to still be an issue for healthcare systems and physician practices.
In this tweet chat hosted by SearchHealthIT and moderated by David Chou, M.D., CIO at University of Mississippi Medical Center, health IT thought leaders and SearchHealthIT staffers held a dialogue about wearable devices.
Wearable health technology is useful, many in health IT agree. But whether the data it generates is medically relevant and cheap enough for large-scale healthcare applications are questions that SearchHealthIT asked Twitter users to discuss in this tweet chat -- SearchHealthIT's second such event, with an earlier tweet chat on Internet of Things in health IT in July.
Affordability was a key issue up for discussion, and the chat's moderator, David Chou, M.D., CIO, University of Mississippi Medical Center, was unambigious about his view.
Meanwhile, Shaun Sutner, SearchHealthIT news and feature writer, echoed Chou's assertion, saying he had learned in his reporting that with wearables proliferating so rapidly, affordability is likely increasing.
Another participant in the tweet chat, Kim Towne, digital analytics manager and risk management coordinator at Fathom Healthcare, saw ROI for wearable health technology in other areas. So did Chou, who implied that wearables can help keep patients healthier at home, as well as that healthcare consumers are looking more and more to manage their own health outside of traditional care settings.
A point of skepticism entered the discourse when the media specialist who staffs the Twitter account for the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) asked:
The chat also zeroed in on the sometimes nebulous definitions of health wearables. such as where the line exists between consumer and medical devices. Alex DelVecchio, SearchHealthIT site editor, who runs the Health IT Exchange Twitter account, had this view:
A4 Anything that can capture and transfer biometric data qualifies as a wearable to me. #chatHIT— Health IT Exchange (@HITExchange) August 27, 2015
Chou's outlook was similar, though he added the qualifying element that a patient must be involved. Many consumers use wearables for purely fitness and wellness; so, while their devices, in many cases, capture and transfer biometric data, these users are not patients in the traditional sense.
Chou also classified portable insulin pumps and even subcutaneously implanted sensors as wearable devices. Towne disagreed on that point, in part, while agreeing with Chou's view of the medical application of wearables.
A4-anything that is attached to a patient with the ability to create a "personal network" #chathit— David Chou (@dchou1107) August 27, 2015
As for the future of this fast evolving technology, Chou and even a sometimes skeptical observer of health wearables, Scott Wallask, news director of SearchHealthIT, were sanguine.
Wearables are also becoming part of a corporate culture where employees have incentives to use them #chatHIT— David Chou (@dchou1107) August 27, 2015
So, a certain consensus emerged from this chat. While we may not understand the exact role of wearable technology in healthcare, or whether its cost is scalable, we know one thing for certain: Wellness devices are pervasive and are already a part of health IT and healthcare.