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Should you be using data from your patients’ consumer health wearables?

By Shannon Geis, MA
June 15, 2017
Body of Knowledge Domain(s): Patient-Centered Care

In a recent MGMA Stat poll, 81% of respondents said that their practice does not use the data from patients’ consumer health wearables. But as wearable health devices, such as the popular Fitbit trackers, become more popular — 45% of respondents in a recent consumer survey said they owned a fitness band — there may be ways for medical practices to incorporate the data into patient treatment. 

Now that many patients are actively collecting data about their daily habits, including their sleep patterns, exercise and heart rate, the question is how can medical practices use that data, and should they? 

One of the simplest ways that these consumer products can affect patient care is by starting conversations. As patients become more aware of their activity through trackers, it may be easier for providers to discuss healthy behaviors and how to improve habits with their patients. Several respondents who answered yes to the MGMA Stat poll say they are seeing patients sharing data from their trackers with providers during regular visits.

But a big hurdle for using this data can be how to integrate it with other patient data in a practice’s EHR. The lack of EHR compatibility was a common reason cited by respondents to the MGMA Stat poll who said they do not use the data from their patients’ wearables. One respondent said they would start using patient data, “when it can be displayed in a meaningful/easy way within the [EHR].” 

Several respondents who use the data say that their patient portal allows patients to upload the data themselves. But until this kind of interoperability becomes standard across platforms, it may be difficult for practices to use the data for broader population health management.

There may also be an issue of security in dealing with this type of data. “Users who buy wearable devices today often do not ‘own’ their data. Instead, data may be collected and stored by the manufacturer who sells the device,” according to a recent study on consumer health wearables. This also means that manufacturers could refuse to share the full data collected. 

There also are concerns about the accuracy of the data collected by these devices. A recent Stanford study showed that wristbands, such as the Fitbit Surge and Apple Watch, were relatively accurate regarding heart rate, but when measuring calories burned the degree of inaccuracy ranged from 20% to 93% when compared with a metabolic breath test. So providers should take all the data collected by these trackers with some skepticism.

While there are still questions about the best ways to use data collected from patients’ wearable devices, it may be useful for starting conversations with patients about their health and their daily habits. 

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Shannon Geis, MA, Staff writer/editor, MGMA

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