Wearable technology, including things like the FitBit and smartwatches, are popular in tech circles. They are tools that generally allow the user to accomplish a few specific tasks with minimal effort. As with much of technology, they will grow in features and popularity until most people have access to and use them in their daily life. As a tool to be used in the workplace, their utility remains less well known. So far, the data that they provide tends to be highly specific and less for immediate use as much as tracking progress. Smartwatches are pushing those boundaries with the ability to display messages and provide certain controls, but even that is limited for now.
Google Glass seems to be the exception. Worn like a pair of glasses, it includes a small screen and camera that can be controlled by voice, touch, or even a small head movement. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is piloting a program to provide this technology to providers in the emergency room, with the goal of displaying pertinent information right when it’s needed. Dr. Steven Horng, who heads up the program, is confident that such devices can save lives. He gave an example of a patient who came into the ER with a brain hemorrhage. The patient was allergic to some blood pressure drugs but was unable to describe them to Horng. Using Glass, Horng was able to pull up the patient’s chart instantly and view the medication allergies, and could then administer the proper drug to the patient. Examples like this easily show the benefits of technology like Glass: up-to-date information about patients without needing a computer, uninterrupted face-to-face interaction, and the ability to capture images or text via dictation. Other hospitals have used Glass to conference in specialists from other locations for guidance or to record videos for training and review purposes.
Any new technology will also present challenges, and wearable technology is no different. In a healthcare setting, patient information is always a concern. At Beth Israel, QR codes are posted outside of patient rooms that allow providers to quickly pull up charts. Unless additional layers of security are added, these could be accessed by anyone with the proper credentials and a smartphone. Their Glass devices are running a modified version of Android which is limited to the hospital wi-fi network and does not share any data with Google, but this could be an issue for unmodified devices. Any photos or videos taken with Glass need to be screened for identifying information, either visual or auditory. Simple physical security for devices is a big part of it, especially as devices get smaller. Any data saved to a device must be able to be wiped remotely in the event of theft, and in a timely manner. On an individual side, they can be distracting. Providers will need to work out the best times to use wearable devices vs. a traditional EHR interface.
Wearable devices are coming to your healthcare provider; it’s only a matter of time. Given experiences with Glass, it seems that there is potential for wearable devices to improve patient visits, increase provider knowledge and efficiency, and save patients from human error. The real trial will be integrating yet another technology into already busy workflows.