Wearable Health Devices and New Data
Wearable health trackers have become a widely accepted technology integrated into many Americans’ lives. No longer just simple step trackers, today’s wearables can track a wide range of health metrics – from sleep patterns to heart rate to exercise duration and blood pressure. Some of the more advanced can even alert the wearer of atrial fibrillation.
Typically incorporated into an easy-to-wear smart device like Apple Watch or Fitbit, a person’s health information is just as readily available as their emails, text messages, and calendar. But how will these devices impact the healthcare industry, including prehospital care and Emergency Departments?
When the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 hit, the global fitness tracker market actually experienced a staggering growth rate of 19.5% that year. Not only were gyms closed – creating the need for tracking personal workouts at home – but more and more health care providers were conducting their practices through telehealth appointments whenever possible. This set the stage for more patient ownership of personal health, along with the need to report to and track specific vitals.
The wearable health tracker industry doesn’t show any signs of slowing; the market is expected to grow from $36.34 billion in 2020 to $114.36 billion in 2028. Hospitals and EMS agencies looking to the future will benefit from anticipating the benefits (and drawbacks) that might come with a proliferation of wearable health trackers in the general public.
Predictions for EMS and Hospital
As part of our annual white papers – the 2022 ESO Hospital Predictions and the 2022 ESO EMS Predictions – we here at ESO compiled key data points and trends gleaned from working with thousands of leaders in the hospital and EMS industries. The resulting documents include a list of predictions and trends we see having the biggest impact on these industries in the coming year, along with recommended actions you can take to help ensure success.
Not surprisingly, wearable health devices were included in both white papers for 2022, as first responders and medical staff began to see the first signs of how the extra information – and increased patient awareness – may impact treatment and prevention practices.
How Wearables May Impact EMS
The concept behind wearable health trackers is that people have more control over their own wellness. Wearables mean a person gains more insight into his or her daily vitals, can improve health-related habits, and can track any ongoing health risks. Hopefully, the increase in health trackers will mean healthier communities overall.
Ideally, EMS agencies will be able to incorporate the additional data sources, from dispatch all the way to patient assessment. Wearables could potentially send important information to the dispatcher, including incident location, patient vitals, and more. Some devices could also potentially alert EMS automatically if the wearer is incapacitated.
This additional input has the potential to be very helpful if handled correctly. As many first responders know, however, there is often already a “data deluge” that medics must wade through; how will new data points integrate into all the noise? Additionally, dispatchers must be able to understand a wide range of reporting, and tools must integrate well with agency systems – not to mention, accuracy and privacy of patient information must be ensured.
EMS agencies should also begin to consider how their personnel can and should integrate data from wearables into their onsite diagnosis and response. There are numerous scenarios that must be considered and protocols developed to save precious time.
For example, what if the patient’s wearable suggests he does not need transport, but your team’s instincts and readings suggest he does? How will wearable device data play into reimbursements, if insurance agencies are privy to that type of information as well? Again, technology has a potential to deliver substantial benefits, but EMS professionals must do their best to get ahead of the curve.
How Wearables May Impact Hospitals
It’s already clear that wearable health trackers can be a great benefit to providers needing to conduct telehealth visits. A patient can use his or her device to track vitals and send required data into the provider via email before the visit. However, providers will have to consider how to ensure this type of patient information remains protected and in line with current HIPAA standards.
The ability to leverage wearable technology, along with continued telemedicine practices, may help reduce crowded waiting rooms and EDs, and lighten workload on an overburdened workforce. More regular visibility into patient well-being away from the hospital can also help patients better manage their recovery and reduce readmittance. Patients with chronic conditions can take a more active role in maintaining their health.
Hospitals will most likely be at the forefront of policy development regarding protection of patient information. Just as privacy and safety concerns emerged when a popular fitness tracker unintentionally revealed the location of American soldiers stationed in the Middle East, hospitals will have to be aware of security risks and how to protect patient information from nefarious persons.
Additionally, with patients more accustomed to seeing and understanding their personal health data, hospitals should consider how they will respond to increased patient requests for data. A more informed base of patients can mean a better understanding of various data points, and hospitals must be prepared with policies on what data they can and will share and how. It will be essential for organizations to create policies to help save both time and resources, as well as ensure consistent responses for all patients.
Embracing the Future of Health Trackers
Personal health trackers are undoubtedly here to stay, and as industry market experts predict, will only become more common with patients – both in the prehospital and hospital settings. EMS agencies and hospitals can avoid many wasted resources and potential errors by developing policies and procedures about handling this new data input. With some fine-tuning, personal fitness tracker data can be a useful tool in painting a more complete patient health picture and engage communities in preventative health and well-being.