What You Don’t Know About Medical Wearable Devices and Remote Patient Monitoring—But Should

By: on September 3, 2021

This year, the number of global Apple Watch users surpassed 100 million; Fitbit currently has about 30 million active users; and the number of people who use the smartphone app, Lose It!, to track their calories and other health stats reached about 2 million per month.

Across the globe, personal wearable devices like these fitness trackers and smartphone apps are popular tools to help users reach their individual fitness and health goals. But this data could be used to help patients see even more benefits if physicians choose to collect and incorporate it into their patients’ unique care plans.

What’s more, according to our recent survey of 485 U.S. patients, 96% are interested in sharing the data collected by these wearable medical devices with their providers to help improve their health.

With the recent widespread adoption of telemedicine and the advent of remote patient monitoring, more and more patients are interested in easier access to healthcare in order to become more involved in their own health plans.

This is great news for providers, as it’s widely accepted that a more engaged patient typically enjoys better health outcomes. However, devising an entirely new system for collecting personal wearable device and app data can be daunting for the average small, independent practice.

Fortunately, we asked survey respondents about the different ways they’d be willing to share that information with their doctors, and their answers revealed that providers can start using manual methods right away to incorporate this data into treatment plans.

Not only will doing so encourage patients to engage with their own healthcare and result in better outcomes, but it also has the added benefit of attracting new patients to your practice—giving you a competitive edge over your competition.

Patients want wearable technology to matter to doctors

We surveyed nearly 500 patients in the U.S. who used either personal wearable activity trackers like Fitbit or Apple watch or smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal or Google Fit to collect data and track goals related to their health.

Not only did the majority of this group want to share their personal data with physicians, 91% said they would be more likely to select a provider who asked about personal wearable and/or app data over one who didn’t when choosing a new doctor.

This shows exactly how important wearable medical devices are to the patients who use them, and illustrates a very tangible result for medical providers who choose to incorporate these devices into their care plans: a draw for new patients.

The more information doctors have to go off of, the better health results their patients will see. Even if the data collected by this digital health technology isn’t considered especially relative to a patient’s diagnosis or treatment plan, simply promoting awareness of their health on a daily basis can improve results, so it should be great news to physicians that patients are this interested in sharing their data.

Addressing the hesitant minority

While only 4% of respondents in our survey said they were not interested in sharing data from their personal devices with physicians, we still sought to understand why that was the case. The biggest reasons were related to privacy and security.

The solution to assuaging these fears is incredibly simple: Just allow patients to opt into or out of sharing data from their personal devices.

It’s not often in healthcare a doctor can give every single patient what they want, but this is one opportunity to do exactly that without adding to your workload.

And remember, the majority of patients have minimal or no concerns over sharing their data. It seems patients truly trust their doctors to protect their information, and doctors would do well to accept that trust and use this data to improve collaboration between themselves and their patients.

This is something the makers of these wearable devices have taken notice of as well. We’re starting to see these tech companies branch out into medical software to create integrations that make wearable data even more accessible to medical providers, and with good reason.

Doctor interest in wearable medical data encourages healthier habits

In our survey, we asked our patients exactly how it would impact their wearable medical device use if a doctor began incorporating that data into their health records and care plans. Over half said it would encourage them to make healthier choices, such as increasing daily activity.

The actual impact of fitness trackers on patient health has been debated since their introduction, but the winning consensus is that continued use of these devices does, in fact, improve users’ overall health just by making them more aware of the choices they’re making and how those choices impact their health.

Sure, getting 10,000 steps a day won’t cure every illness, and it’s true that not every device gets the most accurate heart rate reading, but the fact remains that these devices make patients aware of their health, and that in turn improves it.

We’ll go even further to say that physicians should be taking an active role in helping patients set goals to track on their personal devices. We asked patients in our survey if they would like their doctors to “prescribe” specific goals to track on their own time, such as getting a certain amount of sleep at night, tracking and staying under a set calorie limit each day, or raising their heartbeat for a specific amount of time each day.

It turns out patients would really like that.

This opens up the possibility for an evolution of the doctor-patient relationship. Healthcare workers have an opportunity to provide more holistic care by helping patients meet basic fitness goals that will consequently improve their overall health and quality of life. It’s a win for everyone involved.

The only question that remains is how can providers begin collecting and using their patients’ personal devices today?

Patients are open to sharing wearable data in a variety of ways

One obvious answer is to adopt technology that automatically collects and incorporates wearable data into EHRs and other records. That should absolutely be a consideration for any practice looking to take advantage of personal device data; however, it could be a bit cost prohibitive to many.

To find a more affordable solution, we asked our survey respondents how they would be willing to share their personal wearable device data with providers. We found several options here.

Based on these responses, there’s plenty of patient interest in any method that allows them to simply begin a conversation about their medical wearable data.

The best way for small practices to start doing that today is by asking patients to share information gathered from wearables during exams and incorporating that information into patient records.

Even something as easy as creating a new intake form (or just downloading and customizing this template below) could make all the difference.

wearable fitness tracker data intake form

Download Intake Form Template

Using something like the above template gives your patients the opportunity to tell you whether or not they want to share this information with you while minimizing the amount of extra time you have to dedicate to collecting it.

You could also create a one-time form asking patients if they want to discuss this data with you, then set aside time in appointments to address their fitness trends and “prescribe” new fitness goals for them to work on until their next visit.

The point is, even spending as little as two minutes per appointment going over this information can encourage your patients to stick with their personal fitness goals and continue living a healthier lifestyle—and that, in turn, makes your job easier.

Remote patient monitoring: The future of medical wearable devices

For those even more future-focused practices, the next question about wearable technology has to be about remote patient monitoring.

Remote patient monitoring is the use of digital tools or technology to collect patients’ physiologic conditions, transmit that data to healthcare providers, monitor it for any abnormalities, and even send alerts and recommendations based on the results. According to many healthcare professionals and tech experts, it’s the next big thing in telemedicine and digital care.

To better understand the patient perspective on this new wearable tech, we narrowed our respondents down to 280 with chronic conditions that require more frequent checkups, monitoring, or exams to manage; i.e., perfect candidates for remote monitoring.

We asked these respondents if they’d be interested in remote patient monitoring, and the majority said yes.

We also wanted to understand what expectations patients had about the data being collected via remote connected devices and the roles of both themselves and their doctors in this type of care. This revealed an interesting double standard that’s worth noting.

When we asked patients what they expected providers to do with data collected via remote patient monitoring, most had high expectations for their doctors to be constantly or frequently monitoring their vitals.

However, when we asked patients how they would prefer to keep up with their own care plan tasks (e.g., checking their blood pressure or glucose levels), their expectations were a bit less intensive.

As remote patient monitoring is relatively new and in the early stages of development, now is a great time to manage expectations on both sides.

Obviously doctors do not have time to constantly monitor patient data as it’s transmitted from patients remotely. The more likely scenario is that RPM platforms will be equipped with AI that can do that instead, constantly checking patient data as it comes in and sending alerts to both doctors and patients when anything is out of the ordinary—even advising patients to seek immediate medical help in extreme cases.

The key here will be communicating early. Patients must be made aware of the limitations when it comes to constantly monitoring their data, and now is the perfect time to set those expectations so they’ll be easier to manage once remote patient monitoring becomes more ubiquitous.


Methodology

Software Advice conducted this survey in August, 2021 of 485 respondents to learn more about patient preferences and expectations for personal wearable device data and how it should be used by their healthcare providers. Respondents were screened for their location (United States) and how they kept track of their personal health history.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact lisa.hedges@gartner.com. For more information, see our methodologies page.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable.

You may also like:

The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

Healthcare Technology Trends Will Improve the Patient Experience in 2021 and Beyond

How to Strengthen Your Healthcare Data Security with Software

Download and customize this wearable intake form to fit your practice’s needs