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Wearable devices not ready for extensive use in healthcare

Pank Jit Sin
31 Jan 2019

The use of wearable devices (or wearables) in healthcare has yet to reach a stage where they can be confidently depended upon says a researcher.

Speaking at the MSH 16th Annual Congress 2019, Associate Professor Dr Adina Abdullah, family medicine specialist, Universiti of Malaya Medical Centre, said there are a few major concerns regarding the use of wearables in their current setting. Wearables are devices worn on the human body and are equipped with sensors to collect and deliver information about their surroundings.

Perhaps the topmost concern is the accuracy of these wearables. Adina said there was much issue with the validation and accuracy of the parameters measured or monitored by wearables eg, step counters and blood pressure monitors.  Secondly is the volume of data generated by these devices. “With the vast amount of data for healthcare professionals to look through, how useful are they?” On the same note, what are the legal implications of storing such data, she asked.

Another common problem with electronic data is the issue of compatibility between platforms. With various service and software providers out there, and each trying to outdo the other, companies may not be willing to operate on the same platform, thus making it difficult for the integration of electronic medical records. This limits the use of continuous data collected by wearables, said Adina.

Finally, there are safety concerns regarding these devices as regulations and certifications of these devices are on a voluntary basis to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

Another concern which may seem trivial is the issue of how users look when wearing them. Many people are self-conscious when wearing something out of the ordinary, thus a wearable’s design may also affect its acceptance.

Health apps usage on the rise
Adina alluded to the increased usage of healthcare apps in the country. An application programme or app is a comprehensive and self-contained programme that performs a particular function directly for the user. Apps include email, web browsers, games and word processors. Healthcare apps are applications that help people manage their own health and wellness, promote healthy living and gain access to useful information when and where they need it.

The types of health apps differ according to their function; some are for clinical assistance or diagnosis; some are for remote monitoring; and some sharing of information or decision-making; for reminders and finally apps for wellness. In Malaysia, the most popular apps are those that disrupt the process of care rather than disease management. These include BookDoc and GetDoc, which allows the user to find doctors and to get medical help at home, none of which do away with the need for doctors.

According to Adina, the World Economic Forum Bulletin 2018 lists many of the top 50 most important inventions and advancements in medicine to be from the electronic health sector. These include the likes of robotic surgery, big data and artificial intelligence.

An example of technology revolutionizing healthcare is reflected in the article by the Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah titled ‘The Uberisation of Healthcare in Malaysia.’ Although the the talk wasn’t specifically on Uber, the ride sharing app, it had to do with how information technology and innovations will bring medical care to the patient’s doorstep. In his delivery, Noor Hisham said: “My vision for health in Malaysia starts with the patient. We need to empower the patient and from that one objective, we have developed an entire framework. Instead of patients having to come to clinics and hospitals, we want the doctor to go to the home and provide not just basic care but even some things that you think can only be done in the hospital now. Technology will enable this. There have been many innovations in the past few years, but we need to create a system where all this innovation can be brought together in a coherent manner to benefit the patients whatever economic strata they come from.”

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