eTech Insight: Smartwatches – Becoming Sophisticated Health Monitoring Devices

The Problem: Disparate Medical Monitoring Devices Are Inefficient for Patients to Manage

How many of you have purchased a digital blood pressure device, pulse oximeter, heart rate monitor, thermometer, or an EKG recording device from Walgreens or CVS? If you have purchased multiple devices, you know how each one requires a different process for attaching to your body, measuring the desired clinical data, and storing or recharging the device. For older patients or at-risk patients, this can be a challenging environment. Challenges lead to frustrations that may drive patients’ noncompliance for measuring the factors of their clinical status that caregivers need to maintain a stable health level for the patients.

Many of these devices may not provide the Bluetooth network connections to other computing devices such as a desktop, laptop, or smart phone that are necessary to capture the data for sharing with the care team. If the patient does not enter this data into the provider’s patient portal (another patient workflow challenge) or it is not captured from a phone call by the care team, it may be lost. Missing temporal clinical vital sign data results in less effective trend graphs and analysis, and that may impact the patient’s care.

The ability to measure the clinical vital signs of at-risk patients in a timely and accurate manner from a single device positions the providers to improve healthcare quality while reducing healthcare costs. Providers with capitated population health contracts will benefit from this capability.

The Solution: Smartwatches are Becoming Sophisticated Healthcare Monitoring Devices

Smartwatch technologies continue to progress with healthcare monitoring capabilities. Many of these watches can monitor the blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature of the wearer, and can also show pulse oximeter and EKG readings. An additional benefit is that many of these smartwatches can connect to other computer devices via Bluetooth to enable sharing of this data with caregivers or family.

The cost of these smartwatches can vary a great deal from product to product. Some start at a low $49 US with limited clinical vital sign monitors for blood pressure and heart rate. The top-of-the-line models can command a price of $400 US. When these devices’ accuracy for measuring vital signs has been validated, population health managers could create a program where these devices are provided to at-risk patients for maintaining compliance. This would provide the ability to achieve a higher level of health maintenance stability.

Another feature that is emerging from these watches is the ability to conduct phone calls, text messaging, emails, and calendaring functions. Think about the improvement for communications between caregivers and patients! Once clinical vital sign data has been received from the patient’s watch, the caregiver can call, text, or email impressions of the findings. Ochsner Health System has been experimenting with smartwatches for monitoring care[1]. Think of how these devices could reduce the load of the current COVID-19 crisis by providing temperature and blood pressure readings for the patients with risk factors.

The Justification: One Monitoring Device for Multiple Vital Signs

Enabling patient compliance with one device that can measure multiple vital signs is likely to drive higher levels of patient satisfaction and loyalty for improving health status and stability. The ability to give providers a tighter coupling of caregiver and patient interactions in a real-time or near real-time environment is an expectation that patients will develop from their experiences with COVID-19. Telehealth has moved to the forefront of providing non–acute care services to patients due to its ease of use and convenience of reducing or eliminating patient travel to a provider clinic. Smartwatches will support and extend the value of telehealth services by providing timely vital sign data for these interactions.

The Players: Large and Emerging Companies Drive the Expansion of Smartwatch Capabilities

Smartwatches experienced a slow start on their initial release due to high cost and limited functions and features. New versions of smartwatches are adding impressive functions and features, including healthcare monitoring capabilities. Representative smartwatch companies that are driving higher levels of consumer adoption are:

Prices of these products will vary by function and feature capabilities.

Success Factors

  1. Providers need to thoroughly test smartwatch healthcare monitoring functions to ensure accuracy and reliability before endorsing or supporting a product with patients.
  2. Evaluations of the ability of a patient to intuitively use and connect the smartwatch to Bluetooth enabled computers for sharing must also be conducted. The simpler the process, the better.
  3. Smartwatch strategies should be developed in the context of supporting telehealth services. These strategies should deliver higher patient satisfaction and loyalty.

Summary

Smartwatches are evolving with functions and features that will improve the healthcare management of patient populations. Once providers validate the accuracy of these devices, they will be especially helpful in monitoring and guiding care delivery for at-risk populations. In some cases, the cost of these watches may drive population health managers to consider providing them as a reward for at-risk patients who demonstrate good compliance with care provider care plans. Alternatively, the managers could consider providing them to patients who have trouble maintaining compliance because the multiple digital monitoring products that those patients use are disparate in their operations and not easy to use.

Providers who integrate the data from smartwatches into their patient portals or as a component of their telehealth services are likely to improve healthcare outcomes and care quality as well as deliver a service that meets consumer expectations. As Tiger Woods stated, “There’s always stuff to work on. You’re never there.”

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, Proxima Studio