What You Don’t Know About Wearable Medical Devices—But Should

By: on June 11, 2019

It’s estimated that by the end of this year, almost 61 million people will use a personal wearable device like a Fitbit or Apple watch to track personal health data.

What’s more, according to our survey of nearly 300 patients, 97% are interested in sharing the data collected by these wearable medical devices with their providers to help improve their care plans.

patient interest in sharing wearable device data chart

There’s just one problem for smaller medical practices when it comes to using that data, though: most aren’t using EHRs that have the integration capabilities to gather and analyze information from personal wearable devices.

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.

Patients want wearable data to matter to doctors

Our survey revealed that 41% of respondents use a wearable activity tracker such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, but what was even more interesting than that was the fact that 92% of our respondents said they would be likely to select a doctor who used wearable device data over a doctor who did not.

patient likelihood of selecting doctors who use wearable data chart

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.

The more information doctors have to go off of, the better health results their patients will see. Even if the data collected by personal wearable devices isn’t considered especially relative to a patient’s diagnosis or treatment plan, simply promotion 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.

Likewise, it’s nice to know patient concerns over sharing their data are minimal. 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 them 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 could encourage 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. Nearly half said it would encourage them to make healthier choices, such as increasing daily activity.

impact on patients of providers using wearable device data chart

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.

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

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

To answer that question, we asked our survey respondents how they would be willing to share their personal wearable device data with providers. Turns out, they’re open to several options.

how patients prefer to share wearable data with providers chart

Based on these responses, there’s plenty of patient interest in any method that allows them to simple 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 simple as creating a new intake form (like the following template) could make all the difference.

wearable fitness tracker data chart


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 five 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.

Demographics and methodology

To collect the data presented in this report, we conducted a survey in April, 2019 of a total of 997 U.S. patients. Using screening questions, we narrowed the number of respondents down to 284 with the relevant experience to answer our questions.

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.

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