Healthcare // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
3/11/2014
09:06 AM
Susan M. Reese
Susan M. Reese
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Can Wearable Tech Prevent Healthcare Errors?

Wearable computing devices can be applied to nurse fatigue, staffing, and other quality-of-care problems.

 alt=
10 Wearables To Watch At CES 2014
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Wearable devices -- following in the footsteps of Google Glass, Jawbone, FitBit, and Pebble -- could become invaluable tools in the healthcare workplace. If implemented correctly, wearables could reduce the risk and effects of nurse fatigue, improve patient satisfaction, increase employee productivity, and even contribute to higher levels of quality care.

Wearable technology in action
Sound far-fetched? Many experts believe this scenario may be closer than you think and could help overcome some of the biggest challenges in healthcare.

For example, consider the issue of nurse fatigue. A recent survey showed that nurse fatigue is pervasive in the healthcare industry and, if unchecked, can have a negative impact on the quality of care, patient and employee satisfaction, and even operational costs. Sixty-nine percent of responding healthcare professionals reported that fatigue had made them concerned about their ability to perform during work hours. Even more alarmingly, nearly 65% of participants reported that they almost made an error at work because of fatigue, and more than 27% acknowledged that they actually had made an error resulting from fatigue.

[Will innovations measure up? Wearable Health Tech: Many Promises, Few Facts.]

Clearly, nurse fatigue is an issue, yet many hospitals and healthcare organizations have struggled to solve it. Wearable technology could present such a solution.

Imagine if nurses wore bracelets or sensors sewn into their uniforms that could monitor their critical vital signs. Nurse managers could have real-time visibility into the overall "health" of their nurses, and most importantly, insight into their fatigue levels. If a nurse became too tired -- as measured by fatigue levels falling below a predetermined threshold -- the nurse manager would receive an alert on her wearable device. She could then determine the best course of action, such as extending a rest period between shifts, or sending the nurse home early and notifying a replacement nurse to fill the shift, all in just a few taps on her wearable.

Even better, all of this could be completed in time to take action before the nurse becomes more tired -- a critical factor to avoid the risks of a potential fatigue-related incident.

The future starts now
Many experts believe that wearable technology is poised to escalate in the workplace, with a potentially significant and wide-reaching impact on the economy. Today, wearables are leveraging advances in many different technologies including voice technology, biometrics, communications, and more. Additionally, some research indicates that smartwatches and other wearable devices could be a $50 billion market by 2017.

The healthcare industry is an especially good fit for all that wearables have to offer. Consider the following examples of how wearables could improve the way healthcare employees work and how the technology could deliver benefits to workers and patients:

  • Make faster staffing decisions and speed urgent care: A nurse manager could receive an alert on a wristband to tell her that the ER is about to be flooded with a high number of trauma injuries. She can then react quickly to call in or redeploy additional trauma specialists and have them ready to meet the increased demand.
  • Track employees and improve the quality of care: Hospitals and healthcare organizations could also introduce wearable technology to track a particular caregiver's location. For example, with a better way to direct healthcare specialists to the most urgent cases -- in real-time -- healthcare organizations could significantly improve the quality of care and the patient's overall experience.
  • Improve information sharing: By providing faster, easier access to critical data, wearable technology can revolutionize how healthcare providers and patients share information and make decisions about patient healthcare.

Why the workforce?
With examples such as these, some experts believe that wearable technology will be adopted first in the workplace, not by consumers. Yet healthcare organizations will have to take care to avoid the perception that they are over-monitoring employees or intruding on their privacy.

Employees may already be receptive to the idea. After all, the concept of wearable technology already exists. Employee badges, package-tracking devices, healthcare tablets, and apps are all examples of technology that employees have already accepted as part of their daily work lives. If employees start to experience real benefits from using wearable technology on the job -- such as improved productivity or special recognition from management -- they will continue to embrace it.

Create a new competitive advantage
Wearable technology is clearly here, and here to stay. The technology will improve and become more prevalent in the months and years ahead. Hospitals and healthcare organizations would be wise to investigate wearable technology and how it might be strategically used to improve patient care and the employee experience.

Download Healthcare IT in the Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on the impact of new laws and regulations. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but IT priorities are also being driven by the shift.

Susan M. Reese has more than 35 years of clinical, managerial, and administrative experience in multi-facility, community hospital, and integrated delivery networks. Her credentials include MBA, RN, and CPHIMS. Susan brings expertise in clinical and financial operations ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Truthis!
50%
50%
Truthis!,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/13/2014 | 8:57:27 PM
Re: Fatigue
Very much agree
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
3/12/2014 | 3:30:15 PM
Re: Fatigue
If the hospital is sufficiently worried about medical errors (and lawsuits), its managers ought to be paying attention to issues like fatigue.
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
3/12/2014 | 3:28:24 PM
Re: Fatigue
@Whoopty,

This particular column was about using wearables to track the hospital workforce, not the patients, although any system that tracked factors like fatigue would by definition be recording some health relevant data about the employees.

You raise an important big picture question about protecting healthcare data if we're going to start collection a lot more of it, as seems to be the trend.
@sreeseRNMBA
50%
50%
@sreeseRNMBA,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2014 | 10:51:37 AM
Re: Potential ... and potential stumbling blocks?
David, I think you've hit the nail on the head...how the technology is introduced will be critical to its adoption!
@sreeseRNMBA
IW Pick
100%
0%
@sreeseRNMBA,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2014 | 10:49:51 AM
Re: wearable tech
Great question Lorna! There are devices today used in the transportation industry that can detect an individual's ocular 'blink' rates and determine if they are fatigued. I can only imagine the technology will improve and be increasingly less intrusive.
Whoopty
50%
50%
Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/12/2014 | 10:23:49 AM
Re: Fatigue
That's something I'm more than a little worried about though. While I can see the benefits would be huge with having masses of consistently recorded data on a patient, where is that being stored? How secure is it? Will the NSA be able to look through it for whatever reason? How valuable would that information be if it was stolen? 

Big data has so much potential, but it needs to be very carefully thought out so that should a problem arise, we're three steps ahead. Especially when it comes to people's health. 
Gary_EL
50%
50%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2014 | 10:54:41 PM
Fatigue
When the nurse manager detects fatigue, she'll allow the nurse to take a rest??? Not any hospital any of my nurse pals have ever worked at. Call in a replacement?  There aren't any available, because every one of them who wants to be is already employed. The greatest health care potential for wearables is in patient monitoring. Imagine the wealth of information that can be gathered stored, and studied. This is a job for Big Data.
Ariella
50%
50%
Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2014 | 3:43:44 PM
Re: Potential ... and potential stumbling blocks?
@David definitely, the presentation and explanation of its use is key to getting real utility out of it.
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2014 | 2:48:42 PM
Re: wearable tech
Question -- how can a wearable device detect fatigue?
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2014 | 9:32:50 AM
Potential ... and potential stumbling blocks?
What potential can you see for wearables in the hospital? Is this likely to be a category of technology hospital employees will embrace or resent for the way it tracks their activities? My guess is that how the technology is introduced will make a big difference.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 24, 2014
Start improving branch office support by tapping public and private cloud resources to boost performance, increase worker productivity, and cut costs.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.