Consumers embrace wearable health-monitoring technology as developers find new ways to transfer collected health data directly into patient records
Traditionally, medical laboratories have been the gatekeepers for the lab test data of most patients. After all, it is regularly said that 70% or more of a patient’s permanent health record is made up of clinical laboratory test data. However, several market forces are at play that could eat away at the long-standing role of medical laboratories as the primary gatekeepers of patient test data.
Today, consumers increasingly want to use wearable devices that not only track their health and fitness, but are designed to also eventually stream self-monitored health data directly into clinical data repositories. As these wearable devices are cleared to use the same biomarkers involved in clinical laboratory tests to monitor the wearer’s health condition, then these devices will stream that data into the electronic health records (EHR) of patients with chronic diseases.
Evidence Indicates Patient Health Self-monitoring Technologies Will Proliferate
The stage is set for such a transition. Sales of fitness tracking devices have grown 500% annually over the last three years! In fact, 3.3 million fitness bands and trackers were sold in the U.S. between April 2013 and March 2014, reported Business Insider in a BI Intelligence article.
But some experts think that the game-changer in the wearable device market will probably be smartwatches. Apple’s Apple Watch, for example—with its built-in health and fitness apps and the HealthKit app development platform—could become the first truly ubiquitous wearable health-tracking device.
Not only does HealthKit provide a set of tools for Apple Watch app developers, but it also serves as a cloud-based repository for patient-generated health data. It enables Apple Watches to collect and transfer data between compatible apps, to at-home health monitoring devices, and also to the EHRs of physicians and hospitals.
From Monitoring Fitness to Monitoring Chronic Disease
According to 2014 statistics published by MDT Magazine, more than 25% of adults use either a fitness tracker or smartphone app to track their health, weight or exercise. More than 57% said the possibility of lower health insurance premiums would make them more likely to use a fitness-tracking device and 48% of non-tracking adults said they would use a device provided by their physician.
For these reasons, many healthcare industry leaders expect those same technology consumers would likely be willing to wear personal monitoring devices appropriate to their health problems or diseases as well.
Epic is the first EHR vendor to announce a partnership with HealthKit. This sets the stage for patients using Epic’s MyChart mobile app to provide permission for their self-monitored data in HealthKit to be shared with their healthcare provider.
“Apple’s HealthKit has tremendous potential to help close the gap between consumer collected data and data collected in traditional healthcare settings,” stated Epic President Carl Dvorak in an e-mail to VentureBeat. “The Epic customer community, which provides care to over 170 million patients a year, will be able to use HealthKit through Epic’s MyChart application—the most used patient portal in the U.S.”
Ochsner Health System of New Orleans is an Epic customer. It was among the first healthcare systems to successfully integrate its EHR with HealthKit.
“In the past, we relied on patients to log information, bring it to us, and then we would input the data and decide a course of action,” said Robert Bober, M.D., Director of Cardiac Molecular Imaging, Ochsner Medical Center, in a news release. “Now we can share information seamlessly between patient and physician to allow real-time, accurate analysis of a patient’s health status. This is ideal for patients with chronic diseases such as heart failure, hypertension and diabetes.”
Apple’s HealthKit is not without competitors. Google Fit works on the Android operating system and is also courting EHR vendors and app developers who may want to leverage its repository of self-generated patient health information.
Controlling Access to Collected Data from Wearable Health-monitoring Devices
Apps that help clinicians monitor patients remotely are not only expected to improve patient outcomes but also drive down healthcare costs and reduce hospital readmissions. United Kingdom-based HCi Viocare Technologies has pioneered a new connected insole, for example, which when used by diabetic patients may greatly reduce the risk of foot ulcers and potential amputation.
“2015 is the year that both industries and individuals will truly begin to feel the impact of connectivity beyond the smartphone and PC,” stated Dr. Christos Kapatos, Ph.D., MIET, RSE/SE Fellow, Chief Technology officer at HCi Viocare Technologies, in a The Next Silicon Valley article. “We are developing a portfolio of game-changing and even life-changing products that will take wearable tech to the next level of detail and sophistication,” he continued.
When wearable self-monitoring health technology becomes mainstream, pathologists and lab managers will need to develop strategies for taking an active role in helping physicians and patients not only collect the data, but also possibly evaluate and manage it in conjunction with possessing traditional lab test data on the patient.
Further, healthcare policymakers are actively encouraging consumers to get more involved in their medical care. One example of a policy change designed to make it easier for patients to be involved is the rule issued in 2014 by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that granted patients the right to direct access to their completed clinical laboratory test reports. Thus, expanded use of wearable fitness and health-monitoring devices should be expected.
—Andrea Downing Peck