Survey casts doubt on utility of wearable devices in healthcare

By | April 23, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • A new report by Forrester Research on wearables in healthcare concludes such devices assist consumers rather than clinicians, and that their shortcomings are numerous. The report was based on interviews with more than 40 patients and physicians.
  • “These products neither promise nor deliver healthcare. Why? They offer data, not answers to consumer questions, diagnoses, or treatment suggestions to help restore one’s health,” the report said. The issue with wearables is compounded by an issue that has been the demise of many technological advances in healthcare: Physicians are uninterested in monitoring information obtained remotely.
  • The bearish report concludes that “consumer technology and data may never play a leading role in helping physicians provide healthcare. “The wearables market is diverse, ranging from high hopes for devices to control diabetes to reimbursement doubts for long-term cardiac monitoring to fitness trackers like the Apple Watch.

Dive Insight:

The report is hardly the first to question the ultimate usefulness of wearables in the practice of medicine, or to raise issues of physician participation and payment hurdles.

Forrester cited huge data gaps, a doubtful reimbursement landscape and numerous other factors that hinder their usefulness today. “Looking at the big picture, consumer data is a proverbial knife in a gun fight today,” the report observed.

Along with the fact they are designed more with consumers in mind, it appears based on the dozens of interviews Forrest conducted that physicians are highly skeptical of such devices and the information they provide.

“I didn’t get into healthcare to look at data. My passion is helping people,” one physician in the Midwest told Forrester researchers. Other doctors expressed concern that the data they receive from wearables is not accurate. “I need to be able to trust the accuracy of the data. Companies would need to publish large studies documenting the accuracy of wearables across populations,” said another physician who practices in Northern California.

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The report did cite some potentially promising wearable applications under development, such as an app that gamifies physical therapy for patients with strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders, and another that tracks a patient’s keystrokes to determine their state of mental health. And it did observe that “consumers who use technology to improve their wellness or health can still move the needle in the right direction.”

However, the report concluded that unless physicians buy into the regular use of wearables and the devices are better designed to not only make them more “Apple-like” but easily accessible for those with health and physical disabilities, there may be little promise long-term for such devices.

The report suggested that focusing on what smartphones can do in terms of compiling and transmitting data may be the best route to making wearables acceptable to both patients and doctors.

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