While consumers increasingly rely on wearables like smartwatches to monitor their health, many physicians still aren’t sold on the commercial devices.
Three hundred and twenty million consumer health and wellness wearables are predicted to ship worldwide next year, with that number projected to surge to 440 million wearables by 2024, according to Deloitte Global’s 2022 Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions.
Those devices include smartwatches, like those produced by Apple and Fitbit, as well as smart patches that affix directly to patients' skin.
Consumers now use smartwatches not just to track their exercise, as originally designed, but also to monitor their heart rate, sleep quality and even potential symptoms of COVID-19.
But Deloitte says physician skepticism about the accuracy and utility of wearables may act as a headwind to the industry’s accelerated growth.
Chief among the drawbacks providers report in healthcare's use of wearables is a lack of interoperability.
In a 2020 Deloitte survey of U.S. physicians, providers said that in order for them to start using a new technology, that technology must increase efficiency and be integrated into their electronic health record (EHR) system. Yet only 10% of the physicians surveyed said they had integrated data from wearables into their EHRs.
Physicians may not trust that the data from consumer wearables are accurate, either. While some tools have proved useful—like FDA-cleared heart rate monitoring for atrial fibrillation for those who have already been diagnosed—those same tools can produce errors when used by the general public, potentially generating anxiety for the healthy patient and prompting them to seek unnecessary care.
Constantly monitoring one’s health data can also exacerbate consumer anxiety and prompt obsessive behaviors—worsened when the wearable isn’t producing accurate data in the first place, either because of a flaw in the device itself or because the user isn’t wearing it correctly.
Aside from physician skepticism, the report identified several other headwinds to the widespread adoption of wearables.
While consumers have become more comfortable sharing their health data as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many wearable users still worry about data privacy.
Consumer wearables can also be targeted by hackers, with bad actors sending fake alerts to an individual’s device or stealing data collected through the devices.
In September, researchers discovered an unsecured online database with over 61 million records from Apple and Fitbit wearables, including first and last names, dates of birth and geolocation among other personal details.
There are no clear HIPAA regulations for wearable technology, as long as the data are collected for personal use.
Wearables that pass data to healthcare providers or health systems, however, may be subject to HIPAA compliance standards.
Deloitte notes the potential for increased regulations, especially if data from wearables are integrated into EHRs.
But the report said none of these headwinds is likely to significantly stall the growth of consumer health and wellness wearables, especially as the technologies improve.
Companies are accelerating smartwatch innovation, with many working to integrate blood pressure monitors to target the 1.3 billion adults worldwide suffering from hypertension.
Still, previous data have shown that many patients share similar concerns to physicians around the use of consumer devices to manage their chronic conditions.
In a 2020 survey conducted by electronics company Sony, while nearly 90% of patients said they believed they could better manage their chronic conditions with a health monitoring device prescribed by their doctor, just 28% said they would trust a consumer device.