Why wearables may not be the future of patient care

I took the plunge into the wearable device pool two weeks ago, getting myself a tool that promises to help track my activity levels and sleep patterns while offering insight on how best I can develop a healthier lifestyle.

Sadly, though, my initial feedback is more negative than positive. And given all I hear about the promise of wearables to transform healthcare--and the federal government's recent push to incentivize doctors to use more patient-generated data via such devices in their efforts--this is not a good sign.

My first complaint is the lack of instructions on how to use my device and what to do when glitches pop up--and they've popped up consistently.

I fancy myself a pretty tech-savvy person; I've managed to navigate hardware and software boasting little support and instruction. Still, I was surprised my device came with an almost fortune cookie-sized instruction sheet.

That's OK if a product is designed intuitively with a good user interface. However, that isn't the case with my device. Not only is it not intuitive, the tool doesn't offer support or insight. It doesn't clearly indicate how to charge the device, or what the icons and symbols illustrate.

Half the time, the device shoots me an error signal on my associated smartphone app that it's not able to sync data, though it is very capable of telling me how much time is left before the power runs out.

As for tracking sleep patterns the device has been erratic, at best, and completely useless on some days. One reason is that the associated app apparently lets a user turn off the tracking feature, which I unknowingly did at some point, so two nights of sleep went untracked.

What's more, the scant instructions, once again, failed in helping me determine how to use the app to turn it back on. After 15 minutes of twiddling I got it back on, but then syncing but between my smartphone and the device didn't work.

And let's just say I don't hold much faith in the sleep data, given it claims I was awake in bed for five hours one evening (which I knew to be false). Another day's data indicated I went to sleep well before I actually hit the sheets.

Most days when I try to sync the sleep portion of the app, it tells me the device is not connected. Meanwhile it will update the steps I've taken. When the sleeping feature does appear to finally sync, it also then immediately goes into a spiral death mode that never ends, freezing, and forcing me not only to quit the app, but restart my smartphone to decisively shut the app down.

The scenario is not useful or engaging, unless one likes to be frustrated on a daily basis. And honestly I don't need a wearable and app for that. I'm the mother of teens after all.

I realize this is only one device and I am only one user. However, I also can't imagine I'm the only person experiencing such problems.

Additionally, how is it fair to potentially base provider reimbursements partially on the use of information from such devices, given the scenario I've just laid out? Patient-generated data is all well and good, as long as it's accurate and device users aren't tempted to hide their tools in a dresser drawer after two weeks.

What do you think? I'd love to hear both provider and consumer thoughts about the use of wearables (particularly as they pertain to patient care). - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)

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