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Wearable devices with health IT functions poised to disrupt medicine

Fred O'Connor | May 2, 2014
The next innovation in health care may come from Silicon Valley.

Google, in particular, will "really make a compelling argument for hacking cool solutions for medical applications." Docktor added that the company already followed this route by making an SDK (software development kit) available for its Glass headset.

Meanwhile, every party involved in health IT realizes that data security "is critically important," said Blum. The challenge is keeping data secure while preserving its "fluidity" so it can be added to larger databases and used to advance medicine.

How, and if, IT companies have to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a U.S. government regulation that deals with health data security and privacy and how the information is exchanged, depends on what products they develop.

To avoid having to develop HIPAA-compliant services, IT vendors may make people responsible for managing and sharing their data instead of developing a physician portal, Docktor said.

"I imagine — and I think it skirts the HIPAA issue — but if a patient is sending the data directly to their physician it kind of gets around it," he said. "How [data] is transmitted to the physicians and what we do with that data is really in its early days, and I don't know who's going to win there."

In an economy that monetizes private data, companies that collect or handle biometric data could potentially sell it to third parties, said Saxon. This business model raises privacy concerns, even when data is stripped of details that link it to specific individuals, and people may deserve compensation for contributing their information to a database created from wearable device data, she said.

"Even if they get some kind of service or device for free from Google, at the end of the day if that data is going to be sold should people be compensated? I don't know the answer. But if somebody plans on making money from it then we should be thinking about it," Saxon said.

Of course, finding value in and safeguarding data won't be a problem if people don't start using wearable devices in the first place, or stop using them after a while.

To get people interested in using health-oriented wearables, the devices need to offer data that users can learn from, Saxon said. To do that, the data such devices collect could be integrated with features from other applications so that, for example, a wearable user could get content on what foods to eat to increase blood sugar if it got too low.

Data and device consolidation could also boost the popularity of wearable devices, Saxon said. Instead of uploading data from five sensors to different clouds, people could use one application or device that stores their information in one place.


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