Wearables and EHRs: 5 essential questions

February 10, 2017
Lisa A. Eramo, MA
Lisa A. Eramo, MA

Wearable fitness devices such as smartwatches, activity trackers and other biometric sensors continue to grow in popularity. Physicians must determine whether and how to incorporate device-generated data into their practice’s electronic health record (EHR).

Wearable fitness devices such as smartwatches, activity trackers and other biometric sensors continue to grow in popularity. Physicians must determine whether and how to incorporate device-generated data into their practice’s electronic health record (EHR).

1 How might patients benefit from data integration? 

Think about patients with chronic conditions, says Kathy Downing, MA, RHIA, senior director at the American Health Information Management Association IG Advisors. For example, it might be helpful to analyze data from an activity tracker for a patient with diabetes to determine whether he or she is adhering to exercise regimens. Having access to this data electronically makes it easier to correlate activity with positive outcomes such as lower blood sugar levels or weight loss.

2 How will you engage patients if they aren’t already using a wearable fitness device? 

The good news is that 25% of adults already use a fitness tracker or smartphone app to track their health, weight or exercise, according to 2014 data collected by Google Consumer Insights on behalf of TechnologyAdvice Research. Forty-four percent said that better healthcare advice from their physician would be an incentive to use a fitness tracker. When talking with patients, don’t advocate for a specific product, says Downing. Simply remind patients that tracking their activity, calorie intake or sleep can help foster positive change. 

Consider ways to keep patients motivated to use the device, she adds. Can you promote the use of wearable fitness devices using a gift card or some other type of incentive? When it comes to analyses geared toward population health management, the more data you have, the better. You don’t want large gaps in data because a patient stops using his or her wearable device for several months, says Downing.

Next: Are you able to review the data regularly? 

 

3 Can your EHR vendor incorporate the data? 

Has your vendor developed an interface for mobile device interoperability? If so, how does this information display in the EHR? What tools are available to analyze the information and correlate it with other data in the patient’s record? If not, does the vendor have a plan for developing this type of interface?
What is the timeline? 

4 Are you able to review the data regularly? 

As wearable data flows into the EHR (sometimes providing thousands of data bits per minute), who will review it in a timely manner? While it may not be realistic for physicians to take on this task, it could be delegated to a staff member in charge of chronic care management, says Downing. 

Practices must also develop protocols for whether and how to contact patients as analyses are gleaned from the data. For example, will you contact a patient directly to schedule an appointment if you note that his or her heart rate is consistently high or that he or she is not adhering to exercise regimens? 

5 What’s the biggest advantage of incorporating fitness wearable data into the EHR? 

In a pay-for-performance healthcare environment, physicians will be increasingly judged based on patient outcomes, says Downing. The ability to analyze real-time data and tailor treatment plans accordingly improves patient outcomes and satisfaction and better positions physicians for success under value-based payment models.