Using wearables to track health data could empower patients, but there are several barriers to effective use, including the need for provider support.
The review, published in JMIR, analyzed 20 studies published in Europe and the U.S. that collectively included more than 7,000 participants. Researchers found three main overarching themes: the role of providers and potential benefits to care, driving behavior change and barriers to use.
On the clinician front, the study found wearables offer real-time data that could prove more useful than patients simply communicating their concerns at appointments. That data could potentially be more comprehensive too, like long-term records of activity and nutrition. It could also assist with patient education efforts and particularly help people with chronic conditions feel more supported.
However, researchers noted not all health systems have great track records of adopting new technologies quickly. Healthcare workers would probably need more training to encourage engagement and push behavior change among patients. The ongoing monitoring and feedback would also add to their workloads.
Meanwhile, not all consumer wearables are calibrated for use in healthcare, which could lead to inaccurate data.
But researchers found that tracking progress and continually providing feedback could help bolster behavior change, though that may depend on the context and the patient themselves.
“For wearables to empower individuals, it would be worth undertaking a preliminary assessment of individuals who may require additional support in the form of behavioral counseling. This will help ensure that patients receive appropriate support, as individuals whose motivational profiles are not matched to the wearable device may become demotivated and experience negative emotions from persistently failing to meet goals,” the study’s authors wrote.
There are also a number of barriers to adoption. Though individuals said they were willing to use wearables, actual use was inconsistent. Users sometimes forgot to put them on, lost them or simply became disinterested.
Design, cost and technical and privacy issues could also impair use. Researchers point out some of these concerns could reflect the type of wearable used in the study, but they still need to be addressed to prevent negative perceptions from preventing uptake.
“Considerable literature findings suggest that wearables can empower individuals by assisting with diagnosis, behavior change and self-monitoring. However, greater adoption of wearables and engagement with wearable devices depend on various factors, including promotion and support from providers to encourage uptake; increased short-term investment to upskill staff, especially in the area of data analysis; and overcoming the barriers to use, particularly by improving device accuracy,” they wrote.
“Acting on these suggestions will require investment and constructive input from key stakeholders, namely users, healthcare professionals and designers of the technology.”
THE LARGER TREND
Shipments of wearables declined 3% year-over-year in the first quarter, marking the industry’s first-ever decline, according to a report by the International Data Corporation. However, the decline depended on the type of wearable, as smart headphones and watches actually increased during the quarter, while wristband wearables declined.
There are a number of wearables on the market, including the Apple Watch, Fitbit, Garmin watches, the Oura Ring and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch. Google also recently revealed its own smartwatch, called the Pixel Watch, will be coming this fall.