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Despite Patient Privacy Risks, More People Use Wearables for Health

Despite the patient privacy risks that collecting health data on insecure wearable devices could pose, many more US consumers are tracking their health data with wearables.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- Despite the patient privacy risks that collecting health data on insecure wearable devices could pose, the number of US consumers tracking their health data with wearables has more than doubled since 2013, according to the Deloitte 2018 Survey of US Health Care Consumers.

Of those who used wearables in the past year, 73 percent said they used them consistently.

Sixty percent of the 4,530 respondents said they are willing to share PHI generated from wearable devices with their doctor to improve their health.

“For health systems that are collecting this information, it is important that they safeguard the privacy of that information,” Sarah Thomas, managing director of Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions, told HealthITSecurity.com.

“If it is about their personal health, then it is clear that the information needs to be safeguarded and subject to HIPAA,” she added.

In an interview with HealthITSecurity.com, Pamela Greenstone, program director for the online health information management program at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Allied Health, expressed a similar view.

“All wearables, once they are interfacing with your healthcare organization’s information, your physician practice EHR, that’s where HIPAA applies,” Greenstone said.

“When your healthcare providers are now asking you to send all wearables data to them to monitor chronic conditions and to help you live a healthy lifestyle, it becomes a bigger onus for the healthcare organizations to make sure that data is protected and stored in a HIPAA-compliant way,” she said.

The Deloitte survey found that the use of wearables and other tools for measuring fitness and health improvement goals jumped from 17 percent in 2013 to 42 percent in 2018.

The data generated from wearables and other mobile devices has the potential to help improve population health, advance clinical research, and enhance the performance of devices, Deloitte observed.

“It is really exciting to see this interest in using the information from wearables for improving health,” Thomas said. “We still have some issues to face around getting physicians to be interested in using the information and finding it digestible,” she added.

The survey found three areas where healthcare organizations can seek opportunities for patient engagement: when consumers search for care, when they access new forms of care, and when they share PHI.

Half of those surveyed said ensuring a doctor or hospital was part of their health plan’s network was an important factor in selecting a healthcare provider. For 46 percent, a convenient location was most important.

The percentage of consumers researching healthcare cost information has nearly doubled in the last three years from 14 percent to 27 percent. Similarly, 53 percent said they were likely to use a tool to look up quality ratings for specific doctors or hospitals, although only one-quarter did so in the past year.

As the number of digital tools, apps, and at-home diagnostic tests increase, about one-third of consumers said they are interested in using these tools for identifying symptoms and for health coaching.

These tools may have the potential to improve health outcomes through faster diagnosis, 24/7 access to health coaching, and the ability to recognize mood and lifestyle changes that could improve adherence to treatment plans.

Fifty-one percent of respondents are comfortable using an at-home test to diagnose infections before seeing a doctor. More than one-third (35%) of respondents said they are interested in using a virtual assistant to identify symptoms and direct them to a caregiver.

“Digital assistants can support older people with their questions about their condition and their medications. This could help older people stay at home at get care more conveniently,” said Thomas.

Close to one-third (31%) are interested in connecting with a live health coach that offers text messaging for nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management.

“We know that patients who are better informed about their condition and are involved in their treatment tend to have better health outcomes and typically incur lower costs,” commented David Betts, principal and national leader for customer transformation in health care with Deloitte.

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