Healthcare is trending toward people taking a more active role in their health, and wearable pieces of technology are working to speed the transfer of power back to the patient.

One of the most potent options on the scene is wearable technology. This “healthtech” measures and tracks any number of vitals, such as activity levels, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, medical compliance and even the levels of biochemical markers in the body via sweat analysis. Wearable technology is promising to deliver unprecedented insights into patient well-being while streamlining some of healthcare’s most time-consuming tasks such as data entry, diagnostics and even office visits.

Autonomous Patients

Healthcare is trending toward people taking a more active role in their health, and wearable pieces of technology are working to speed the transfer of power back to the patient. Instead of relying solely on the observations of medical professionals, patients can collect their health data, administer their own treatment plans and manage their progress, all on a single platform.

This can be achieved in a number of ways. Pieces of nanotechnology called ingestion event markers are taken with food or medication and then disbursed throughout the body. They transmit data directly to a wearable device that, in turn, translates the information into usable insights.

Outside of diagnostics, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, commonly known as TENS, is also going wearable. A simple patch will be able to administer low-voltage electrical stimulation to provide no-drug pain relief. In addition, the device will be able to send pain data to an app that’s accessible to both patients and doctors for better pain management. Wearable medical devices can also encourage healthier habits with progress reports, reminders and social media integration.

Empowered Medical Personnel

Of course, digital tech isn’t going to render medical professionals obsolete. Proper interpretation of the data that’s collected is the most important aspect of any healthtech wearable. This technology will actually enhance the core functions of nurses and doctors, as well as open up new opportunities to better serve their patients. These wearables will become ubiquitous tools in a physician’s arsenal, reducing costs and adding value for patients and professionals alike.

Healthtech wearables can also do a better job of collecting health data over time versus singular tests or depending on hazy patient recollections during annual checkups. This allows for a more comprehensive view of a patient’s health that can help all interested parties identify patterns and establish a game plan.

Remote Healthcare Possibilities

Applications of wearable technology are nearly boundless when it comes to health, from helping users to become more informed of and engaged in their own health, to providing a virtual office, lab and research capabilities for practitioners and other health professionals. This is especially helpful for patients in remote areas or those with mobility issues.

Wearable technology can also allow people to connect with distant specialists. These patients can transmit their health data to physicians who can then make informed decisions about the patients’ care without ever meeting them in person. Medical professionals can receive details for things such as bodily functions and disease markers, information that is usually only available via in-person examinations. Even in cases when a patient has to come in, doctors can have most of the information they need right at their fingertips, shortening appointment times.

HIPPA Concerns

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 made huge strides in protecting consumers’ health-related information. These laws, however, could not foresee the explosion of health-related digital technology, particularly mobile applications and wearables. There are now gaps in the statutes that regulate how companies can use and furnish patient information, leaving consumers open to serious breaches of privacy. In fact, a 2016 report released by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology identified significant gaps between the data wearables collect and the coverage that HIPAA provides.

While there are no specific federal privacy requirements currently in place for wearables and other health technology, at least 30 percent of the most popular healthtech apps do have a standalone privacy policy in place. Some states have also begun to enact legislation that regulates wearables and other health devices to ensure that patient data is only seen by authorized personnel.

This ad hoc approach certainly isn’t ideal but, as with most legislation, HIPPA and other health-privacy regulations are work in progress. They will need to be revised regularly to remain effective, but healthcare companies must also take the initiative to create strong privacy and security guidelines so their patients feel secure. A more permanent answer lies in the ability of policymakers and healthtech industry leaders to collaborate on efforts that can define privacy best practices without slowing the pace of this technology’s development or adoption.