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The Slow Growth Of Connected Health: What's Taking So Long?

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With the explosive rise of fitness wearables, including sleep monitors, activity trackers, scales and apps that track everything from your daily nutrient intake to your mood, the adoption of "connected health" devices in the health-care system has been relatively slow.

Surely patients and providers alike are eager to gather and use data from these connected devices to improve the quality of health care they get and provide, so what is the problem?

What is Connected Health?

Connected Health is one of the terms used to describe healthcare delivery through streamlined communication between patients and providers through connected devices.

Connected health will enable a shift from in-person provider visits to 24/7, across the globe access to holistic, individualized healthcare by using data gathered and stored by connected devices and apps that track information about the wearer. Whether it is tracking activity levels, heart rate, sleep cycles, menstrual cycles -- you name it, there is an app or a device for tracking it.

So What's the Hold Up?

On paper, this all seems fantastic. Giving providers access to measurable data about patient lives in order to make more informed recommendations for their health conditions and lifestyle seems like a win-win. Access to 24/7 health-care solutions is perfect for the new generation of technology adopters. Not to mention that providers who have dedicated their lives to providing the highest level of health care would now have the opportunity to go beyond the limitations of the in-person doctor-patient visit and make recommendations that could give patients more accurate diagnoses, more customized recommendations and therefore better health outcomes.

This would ease the cost on medical systems and help patients take an active role in their own care. In theory, connected health should take healthcare to the next level, bettering health outcomes for everyone.

Believe it or not, the growth in this sector has actually been slow. Out of all the mobile health apps actually available on iOS and Android, only two per cent can actually connect a patient to a provider system. People are not actually motivated to connect their devices to providers, and providers and patients alike are not keen on making medical decisions based on data collected from connected devices.

One of the major issues seems to be that most connected health devices do not actually collect data in such a way is considered 'medical grade'. There are serious concerns about quality, safety and how to actually ensure patient engagement.

Privacy Implications

Another concern that is slowing growth are the privacy implications of connected health. What is more personal than data that are actually derived from your body -- your heart rate, weight, location, and activity level? Further, data collected from wearable technology may have potential to be used for nefarious purposes.

For example, transmitting data wirelessly can be easily be intercepted, without the owner being aware, or having the ability to delete or correct the information. What if your information could be hacked and sold to potential employers or health insurance companies, that could then be used to discriminate against you for your employability or insurability based on the data gathered by your devices? Perhaps more likely and annoying is being targeted for advertising based on the data your device is submitting over the internet.

Another potential issue is meaningful consent. The general public may not understand how their data are being used, or understand the implications of such use. Simply buying and wearing a device is not enough to be considered consent, and throughout product updates and changes to technology infrastructure it becomes increasingly difficult to measure consent. This opens up providers to concerns about legal repercussions and users to the risk of not really understanding how their information is going to be used.

What this means for Health Technology Companies

Providers, and health technology and mobile device companies have to create an infrastructure for ethical practices and procedures. This means figuring out a way to actually obtain meaningful consent from the individual and informing that individual on how their data will be stored, shared and used--this includes giving people the option to opt-out.

These policies and procedures will have to be public and readily available on all publications, communications, websites, and marketing materials to make sure the consumer is informed. It also means making sure the data are collected and stored securely as possible, including developing security policies for staff and developers, and integrating privacy safeguards into organization practices.

What's Next?

The health technology and connected health industry will continue to blossom despite these concerns and with it, regulatory and legal infrastructure will have to catch up to the increasing complexity of the issues that arise with these kinds of technologies. When the average Canadian only gets a few minutes per visit with their doctor, increasing the data available to providers will increase the holistic treatment of patients.

Patients want actual tailored advice, and actually do want health professionals to use these data. With time we can expect connected health to revolutionize the healthcare system to increase patient engagement, provider support and ultimately increase better health outcomes.

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