Can wearable technology improve patient adherence?

Big data is the fastest growing trend in health care, bar none. While its popularity may have begun with electronic health records serving as data silos, these repositories of critical patient health information are becoming increasingly interconnected - a development that new treatment models like accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes are leveraging to improve quality of care.

However, not all patients share the same zeal for data analysis that health care professionals might have. While the average person can appreciate the value of an EHR, are these systems engaging enough to draw patients in and keep them abreast of changes to their health and the necessary steps they need to take? Physicians and administrators have extended EHR access to patients in the past with little effect, but the upcoming wave of wearable medical devices could be the game changer, improving adherence rates in a way that other technology has not.

An almost booming market
Wearable medical devices, such as consumer-facing "smart" watches or fitness-centric wristbands, may not be a driving force in health care at the moment, but they are poised to grow. Financial consulting firm Credit Suisse recently estimated the wearable device market would increase from $5 billion in 2013 to $50 billion between 2017 and 2019. 

Patients may see these gadgets as novelties, but wearable devices hold real potential to change how people manage their own health. A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center indicated that patients with chronic conditions are more likely than their healthy counterparts to seek out information on their illnesses through Internet searches. They also consult online reviews for possible treatments and connect with other patients who have had similar experiences.

While chronic disease patients show encouraging initiative to participate in the management of their own health, Internet searches on medical topics often yield inaccurate results. If wearable devices are linked to a patient's remotely accessible EHR, though, patients can check this information as often as they like with confidence that everything in it - as well as the analytics recommending certain interventions - is correct.

Wearable devices can keep patients in constant contact with the details of their conditions, but merely opening access to an EHR is not enough. Patients should have their own non-expert user interfaces that distil esoteric medical information into an easily digestible format. A 2012 report from the University of Oxford noted that single-page "highlight" sheets, interactive web sites and non-textual multimedia - as opposed to rote data in EHRs - can help patients understand information about their conditions and improve patient adherence.