Wearables Data Is Cheap; Relevance Is What Counts

By Douglas L. Wood, MD, Mayo Clinic

Wearables and the data they generate are often thought of as great solutions for health and healthcare. While the benefits of these new devices and the information they provide are many, there are some challenges that we had not anticipated with so much data flowing to physicians.

At Mayo Clinic, we have started performing experiments with patients who wear these devices. What we’ve learned is that the precise data that is generated is helpful; however, the behavioral changes we are able to recommend to patients based on the data is where true value will be recognized. The patients know we are partnering with them and that’s powerful.

Many patients who come to our facility expect us to talk with them in detail about what they are seeing in their own data. If we don’t, it undermines our credibility in the visit, in their eyes. One of our patients likened this situation to being stopped by a police officer for speeding. If you knew you were speeding and the officer talked to you about something else, you would think that was odd. That’s the current state with wearables and healthcare.

We have come to the conclusion that information, or data, is cheap. What’s priceless is the context and relevance of that data. For us, the value of data is being able to take the information and distill it into contextual frameworks that have meaning for physicians and nurses and for patients who are trying to find ways to live better.

Interestingly, when we’ve studied people with diabetes and other chronic conditions, we’ve learned that the clinical data is not that important. What is important is that these patients do not want to be considered a diabetic or labeled as some kind of condition. They want to be a person. Herein lies a challenge with big data: it makes it very easy for clinicians to apply labels to people, and that’s not going to help anyone. We have to think about this data differently.

Finally, we’ve begun to see a tremendous opportunity for physicians and nurses to use wearable computing, especially if we could link to cognitive computing to help us do our daily work and make that work more meaningful and less cluttered with some of the regulatory requirements that we have now. If clinicians had access to this type of technology, we could free ourselves from some of the very restrictive documentation and other process measures that are based on rules that were written 20 years ago, when the records were still largely paper.

Think about it: Having electronic records that are populated with real data and video would mean we would not need to rely on recreating a 20-year-old paper record. It’s time we break out of this old way of thinking and devise a new way of delivering care, namely letting actions stand on their own with the capacities of modern technology to record and advance them.

What do you think is the most valuable aspect of wearable technology?

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Douglas L. Wood, MD, is the medical director at the Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic and a practicing cardiologist.