Telemedicine and EHR Integration with Wearable Technology

January 30th, 2017 /
Vikram Maindan
/ 4 Min Read

People have fallen in love with fitness and showing off their progress with a seemingly endless variety of wearable products. These devices have a wide assortment of functionality, from measuring heart rate to monitoring how many calories they have burned, to counting the number of steps taken – they can even detect abnormalities in sleep patterns. They have risen in popularity and become a standard gym accessory. The next question is, can we take advantage of new technology that can seamlessly integrate and provide24-hour Telemedicine?.

EHR Integration

There are so many tracking capabilities on these devices, it wasn’t difficult to look for different ways to advance the field of health information technology. Let’s consider interoperability – which in this case means the ability to have data move from a device to a remote system for display and analysis. There are so many different products with unique operating systems, this is a nearly undefeatable behemoth stalking the industry. Steps toward allowing data to be read on a variety of devices would be beneficial to all of the users of these technologies. Apple’s own app HealthKit was the first to link with Electronic Health Record software, and it has been most successful to date. It’s worked well for everyone except for Android phone users, which makes up nearly fifty percent of the market. Perhaps the most popular of these wearables is the Fitbit, yet, this device does not link up with HealthKit, so clearly, there is some work to be done.

A few months ago, Carolina HealthCare System quietly released the first prototypical fitness tracker and electronic health record integration app called MyCarolinas Tracker. This app, developed using HealthKit, has direct incorporation with 3 pulse oximeters, 7 Bluetooth blood pressure cuffs, and more than 25 health trackers. If you don’t want to pay the high cost for one of these devices, you can still use the Apple Health app or, even better, you can use the Moves health app, which is fully functional on both Android and iOS devices. These are perfect tools for setting health goals and getting an accurate analysis of health metrics over a specified period of time.

These are all very cool technological features, but what is the point? I’ve looked at the Health app on my iPhone and, aside from guessing how many steps I’ve walked so far today, I don’t really understand what any of it means. So, I’m just sitting on all this data, and it’s not really helping me. In order for it to matter, clinically, there must be integration between these devices. An example would be the iPhone Health app communicating with the physician’s electronic health record system. With incoming information from such a device, the physician can monitor the data and look for patterns of health.

Nowadays, there is an abundance of wearable fitness devices: FitBit, AppleWatch, Samsung Gear – even companies like Fossil are developing their own smartwatches to keep up in the market. As the market for wearable devices expected to be worth $51.60 billion by 2022, it’s important to consider the benefits of integrating them with EHR software. Having fitness and health data transferred from a wearable device directly to the patient’s health record would help physicians:

  • Better monitor patients remotely
  • Expand the reach of patient care to rural areas
  • Improve the amount of data physicians receive

One of the biggest benefits of using devices to send information to EHRs, however, is that it’s a great supplement towards the efforts of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.

Telemedicine and Remote Patient Monitoring

The American Telemedicine Association defines telemedicine as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” Over the past few years, the telemedicine market has grown significantly as more and more providers are adopting the technology. The use of telemedicine can save time, reduce costs, and improve care coordination. When fitness devices integrate with EHRs, providers will have greater options to remotely monitor their patients.

If a medical patient were a member of the Carolina HealthCare System’s network, and high blood pressure was a concern, the patient could take their smartphone or wearable device and communicate to their doctor to monitor their blood pressure readings in real-time. Each doctor who has the MyCarolinas Tracker app could automatically connect to patients’ phones or wearable devices and instantly download the data for measurement of the blood pressure readings. The physician would get a more visceral, real-time picture of what the patient’s blood pressure looks like on a daily basis for weeks, months, and possibly even years. There are many different medical concerns to be monitored – blood pressure is only one; however, having access to this data will be helpful for managing weight loss, glucose levels, and much more.

This is not the first app of its kind, but its functionality reaches and covers millions of patients, providing the first real chance to make a huge public health impact. The only issue is that this app is only useful within its own network. But, the mere fact that it exists at all is a clear signal to where the EHR community is heading and that the dream of interoperability across many platforms is just around the corner.

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