Woman using her smart watch for medical data

Medical Wearables and Security for Your Patients

Ever since FitBit launched in 2007 and became one of the first consumer-marketed health tech tools, millions of people have strapped on wearable devices to track their personal fitness goals. In fact, 21% of U.S. adults regularly wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, according to the Pew Research Center.

While technology devices now can be widely used for monitoring patients’ health, some patients may not be as eager to get on board. A steady stream of news stories about digital scamming has caused many to lose trust in the technology industry. And 55% of American consumers don’t trust companies like Apple or FitBit to keep their digital health information secure, according to a study from Accenture.

If you’re a healthcare provider who prescribes medical wearables, you have an advantage. A survey from Sony found that 75% of patients would wear a health-monitoring device if it was provided by their doctor.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the industry and how you can talk to your patients about privacy and security related to these valuable devices.

How wearables can be used

During the pandemic, many providers switched to telehealth services to social distance and help reduce the spread of the virus. These video appointments have become an accepted convenience and can be enhanced with data from wearables.

Smartwatches can collect data, such as heart rate and rhythms, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. Other wearables include sensors that measure insulin levels and implantables that can monitor cardiac activity. Some can help patients with chronic conditions remember to take medication or can continuously track their vitals.

Privacy and safety of devices

It’s important to understand privacy and security precautions, so you can educate and protect patients. The first thing to know is that HIPAA only covers information that is created, received or maintained by or on behalf of healthcare providers and health plans. Because the data that wearables collect is generated by the user, it’s not protected by HIPAA rules. In fact, no privacy policy exists for apps or wearables.

In addition, private companies aren’t required to be transparent about how they use the data. They could sell the data to a third party, target ads to the wearable user or profit by developing new products based on the information collected. Device companies are left to self-regulate the use of the information they collect, so it’s important to choose those that are reputable.

What patients need to know

Before starting any remote treatment with a wearable device, it’s important to address patient security and privacy concerns. The first step is to understand and explain the terms of use and how the data may be used for each wearable.

Also discuss how your office will proactively manage the wearable devices to ensure policies haven’t changed. With any technology, there’s the possibility of it being compromised. It’s essential to have transparent incident reporting and recovery in place, along with a protocol for monitoring ongoing risk.

The U.S. Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center recommends that providers take several steps, including applying security patches and updates to the tools immediately after they’re released and maintaining anti-malware solutions. Be forthcoming with patients on how you will ensure their security.

The benefits of wearables

While concerns should be addressed, wearables can offer significant health benefits to patients. And for healthcare providers, the proactive management of patients’ chronic health conditions can elevate the level of care you can provide to them. For example, the data collected can help you personalize treatment based on the specific needs of the patient. It also allows for the early detection of symptoms in real time, which can help you create a proactive treatment plan.

Wearable devices can also remind patients to take medications and record instances when patients fail to follow treatment plans. According to the Accenture survey, 23% of consumers said reliable and secure digital tools that help them to understand their health habits would motivate them to take a more active role in managing their health.

Finally, medical devices save time and money. Patients won’t need to drive to a doctor’s office for a checkup. And providers can automate time-consuming manual data collection, allowing you to streamline operations and make more efficient and informed diagnoses.

The future of the industry

Devices that monitor vital signs are projected to become a $980 million market by 2024, with an annual growth rate of more than 21%, according to MedicalDirector.com.

While smartwatches offer a variety of uses, implantable healthcare wearables are expected to be a key area for growth. Devices can monitor wellness levels, such as blood sugar for people with diabetes. And consumers are interested in virtual healthcare. According to Accenture, 57% would be open to remote monitoring of ongoing health issues through at-home devices.

Technology can provide a wealth of information to help improve the health of patients and the efficiency of healthcare providers. Information is power, and connectivity can improve the quality of life for patients today.

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