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Wearable devices with health IT functions poised to disrupt medicine

The data that wearables can provide excites doctors, although the health care system isn't ready for the technology

By Fred O'Connor
May 1, 2014 03:53 PM ET

IDG News Service - The next innovation in health care may come from Silicon Valley.

With Google, Apple and Samsung exploring how to incorporate health IT features into wearable devices, patients may soon provide information to doctors through devices such as smartwatches that can measure and transmit biometric data. Health IT wearables will open a digital conduit so that, for instance, doctors can more readily monitor patients with chronic conditions while also cutting down the need for office visits.

"What's going to accelerate health as much as anything is consumer devices having [medical] features on them so that we're continuously collecting this data over a large population of patients," said Dr. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and executive director and founder of the USC Center for Body Computing.

Companies like Apple, Google and Samsung "have the ability to, unlike medical companies, create continuous engagement with their users."

Health IT devices
IT devices are set to change how health care is practiced.

While none of these companies has health IT wearables generally available, each has shown interest in the market. Apple executives met with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December to discuss mobile medical applications, according to the agency's public calendar. The company is rumored to be developing a smartwatch with health IT functions and has hired staff with backgrounds in medical sensor technology.

The FDA's calendar also noted that Google last year met with agency representatives including the adviser on mobile medical applications and staff who regulate ocular and cardiovascular devices. Additionally, Google developed and is testing a prototype contact lens that can help diabetics monitor their blood sugar by measuring glucose levels in tears.

Samsung and the University of California, San Francisco, recently established a lab on the school's campus to test and validate medical sensors and digital health technologies.

"We are now seeing a transition to companies thinking about these [devices] in a much more rigorous way, that they are going to be used for maintaining wellness or treating disease," said Dr. Michael Blum, the associate vice chancellor of informatics at the UCSF School of Medicine and the director of the school's Center for Digital Health Innovation.

The first generation of wearable devices from companies like Fitbit and Jawbone collect information that people would find interesting, like the number of steps walked, but have somewhat limited use from a health perspective, said Blum, who is a cardiologist.

"They were based on very little science," Blum said. "They were really based on how can we build a device and make it a marketing success." These devices and the technology they use were never validated for accuracy and the metrics they measured were never scientifically proven to have wellness benefits, Blum noted.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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