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Enhancing health care with wearable tech: Innovations & implications

To seize the benefits of wearable technology, healthcare organizations must proactively address some unique challenges.

Expanding Opportunity

Wearable devices—smart glasses, wrist-worn displays, biometric authentication bands and other connected devices worn on the body—have many promising applications in healthcare.

When integrated with core medical systems, wearables can enable physicians, nurses and other hospital staff to become truly mobile, using their hands to work while having access to relevant, context-aware information.

The result? Faster, higher quality decision making, more efficient work output and lower costs. Leading-edge hospitals and clinics are already using wearables to transform resident training and emergency medicine communication, providing a critical competitive advantage.

Opportunities continue to expand, but regulatory, technical, security and operational obstacles must be addressed. Read on as we detail critical considerations.

Wearables can enable physicians, nurses and other hospital staff to become truly mobile… resulting in faster, higher-quality decision making, more efficient work output and lower costs.

Patients are Ready

Healthcare wearables will save as many as 1.3 million lives and the market for the technology will grow to $41 billion by 2020, according to estimates by Soreon Research.

What’s more, patients are ready for wearables. Evidence from the Patient Engagement Survey showed 49 percent of patients globally wear or would be willing to wear technology that measures and tracks both fitness/lifestyle and vital signs.

By deploying wearables technologies, hospitals and clinics can achieve benefits across multiple levels and roles, including:

  • Improve patient care and satisfaction - Provide surgeons and physicians with critical information to improve decision making process while increasing opportunities for patient connection. Examples include using smart glasses to view patient vitals and relevant information during surgical procedures without taking eyes off patient.

  • Enhance operations at point of care - Enable more efficient and effective use of nurses’ time and resources. Examples include using smart glasses or wrist-worn displays to instantly alert nurses to specific patient needs or to update patient location in the hospital (i.e., moved into operating room); optimizing nurse assignments to attend to patients in a smart way; or providing supplemental patient vitals monitoring.

  • Strengthen operational bottom line - Facilitate cost savings by equipping building and custodial staff with wearable devices that increase productivity.

Integrating Wearables in Healthcare

To move ahead, healthcare organizations must proactively address the relevant regulations, then implement the proper technology systems and security protocols to make their wearables implementation fully compliant and operational.

Careful planning is necessary across four key areas:

  • Regulatory - In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a risk-based approach to wearable and mobile health technologies, committing to enforce regulations on only high-risk health IT applications and clinical devices.

    In October 2014, the FDA issued draft guidance recommending that device manufacturers manage cybersecurity risks in the initial design and development process for network-connected medical wearables that access patient data. With that and subsequent decisions, the FDA placed the primary responsibility for regulatory compliance on device manufacturers, not hospital and clinical administrators.

  • Technical - Interoperability is a key consideration for wearables implementations in healthcare organizations. Wearable devices either serve as an interface to a data warehouse or as a device generating data to be stored in a data warehouse.

  • Security - The largest security risk with the wearables comes from their ability to store and transfer data. This unstructured data could possibly be subjected to unauthorized access, duplication or loss. If breached, it could also be a violation of a patient’s privacy.

  • Operational - Hospitals and clinics will need to develop a strategy to roll out and maintain the processes supported by wearable technologies. This includes determining how to implement the technology from a logistical standpoint, provide appropriate training to employees, and maintain regulatory compliance and data privacy.