This Probably Isn’t The Year Of The Wearable

Recently, I read over the results of a survey asking healthcare leaders what trends were most important within the industry. Much of what it outlined was predictable, but one data point stood out from the others.

Researchers with Definitive Healthcare, which conducted the survey, concluded that only 5.3% of respondents saw the use of wearables as likely to be important in 2019. This was the case even though Definitive lumped remote monitoring into the mix.

At first glance, this result might seem a bit surprising, given the deluge of excited news stories being written on the subject. But maybe it makes more sense than you might think. In fact, it’s worth asking whether it’s time for a hype check on the subject of the future of the wearable.

As it turns out, we’ve come to something of an impasse when it comes to wearables interest among healthcare professionals. While most doctors will acknowledge that having better ambulatory status metrics would be great, many see such devices as an intrusion. Others simply don’t see the need for such devices and when in doubt, would rather rely on old-fashioned blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes to manage patient care. Others just don’t see the current crop of wearable devices providing medically relevant data.

This impasse isn’t new. A year ago, I wrote a piece noting that while wearables themselves are getting more impressive, physicians weren’t coming along for the ride. I noted that there’s a gap in the technology involved: that the simple devices patients own aren’t sophisticated enough to meet physicians’ needs, while more advanced models are largely at the idea or testing stage.

As far as I know, the wearables device market still hasn’t matured much, and nothing I’ve seen suggests that it’s going to progress much in 2019. Someone or something has to come along to soothe physicians’ fears, normalize data collection, manage a chronic disease or otherwise impose order on a chaotic market sector, and nobody seems to be carrying the ball at the moment.

Until we have a standard set of wearables with a predictable form factor generating reliable, valid data in a digestible format, it seems likely that physicians won’t take them seriously. And without their support, nothing else is going happen.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m still going to keep a close eye on the evolution of wearable devices, and fully expect them to become a standard medical tool at some point. However, I think I’m going to curb my enthusiasm for a bit and see what happens before I share the next wearables news flash.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

2 Comments

  • Good thoughts here, Anne, but I think we need to take others into consideration. We may be closer than you think!

    First, physicians were never trained in remote monitoring and how to accommodate it, so they often don’t understand the value of trending. Trending is arguably more important than specific values in time, in many use cases. I’m not even sure how many take into account what “really” happens outside of the confines of their offices. This also speaks to the value of AI and simple data normalization in remote monitoring. Without these aspects the flood of data to an EMR is going to be simply overwhelming.

    Accompanying that thought is that EMRs were also not designed to handle the iterative level of data points, trending, and/or workflows required for RPM to be successful. Most of the “solutions” provided so far have not taken the solution all the way to the EMR and provided those integrations for the providers. But that is in progress too, and in use in some cases. But this in turn speaks to the need for intelligent implementations considering workflows as well, just as with EMR implementations in general.

    Lastly, while they are very new to the market and still trying to find their way, there are a number of new wearable devices that are available now and those vendors are involved in extensive clinical research. Even now a number of the fitness-level devices are being used in clinical research while these newer devices are coming on stream.

  • Interesting take, Anne. I’m excited to see this trend progress. Our CMIO made a great point about wearables on a podcast earlier this year saying that they may not be incredibly sophisticated yet, they’re much better than the patient’s recollection we’ve been relying on for years.

    My grandparents also take their blood pressure daily and record it in a journal to bring to their monthly doctor’s visits, and I can’t help but think they’d be much better off sharing the data real-time, especially for people with white coat hypertension.

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