HealthDecember 20, 2019

Can wearable technology improve patient care?

Wearable technology has helped take personal care to another level. People track their steps, heart rate and sleep patterns with the help of technology such as smartphones, Apple Watches, and Fitbits.

But how does this information translate to the health care setting? Does it help hospital staff improve patient care, or is it just a fad without real medical application?

Wearable tech is big business

While already a billion-dollar business, the wearable technology industry, which includes fitness trackers, smart glasses, smart fabrics and simple step counters, is expected to boom in the coming years. Some sources predict a $27 billion-plus market.

With increased usage of wearable technology and improved accessibility to these devices, it is going to become imperative for healthcare practitioners to know how to interpret the resultant data and how this data should affect their treatment plans for patients.

The good (and bad) news about wearable technology

Wearable technology has advantages for both patients and healthcare practitioners. For example, these technologies help patients be more active in their own care. In one systematic review, the use of pedometers was associated with an increase in physical activity and decreases in blood pressure and body mass index. Another study found that patients with metastatic peritoneal cancer who took more steps had lower 30- and 60-day readmission rates.

The major limitations of this technology include the generational and economic divide, regulations and privacy. Patients who could benefit the most from these technologies, such as rural and low-income patients, also are some of the least likely to have internet access, making the use of this technology difficult or impossible.

In addition, at this time, wearable devices are not regulated by the FDA as medical devices. Because of this, they are not subject to the medical device requirements and therefore they may have significant error margins when reporting data.

This brings up a difficult set of questions and concerns for practitioners: If the device can have a significant error rate, is the data reliable and accurate? And If the data is not reliable or accurate, then how can it be used to treat patients or diagnose symptoms?

Lastly, terms and conditions for these devices may include consent for data use. This makes exporting the data into the electronic health record difficult, as the data is not private or secure. This data can be shared with app developers, and then go on to third-party marketers and market researchers.

As wearable technology progresses, time will tell if it's the next big thing for data-driven care - or if the data is still too unreliable to use in a patient care setting.


Bravata, D.M. (2007). Using Pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. A systematic review. JAMA. 298(19). P 2296-2304. (Level I)

Bove, L.A. (2019). Increasing patient engagement through the use of wearable technology. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 15 (8) p 535-539. (Level VII)

Low, C.A., et al. (2018). Fitbit step counts during inpatient recovery from cancer surgery as a predictor of readmission. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 52(1) p 88-92. (Level IV)

About the author

Robin Coyne MSN, RN, AGACNP-BC, it the Senior Clinical Editor and Content Editing Manager at Wolters Kluwer.

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