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Tech futurist talks Apple Watch, IoT in healthcare

Frank Palermo, an IT consultant with IoT in healthcare expertise, talks about Apple Watch use in healthcare.

Frank Palermo is senior vice president of digital at global IT consulting firm Virtusa Corporation. With a background as an IBM software engineer and experience in tech research and development, Palermo is interested in Apple Watch and Internet of Things (IoT) applications in healthcare. He talks with SearchHealthIT about the future of Apple Watch in healthcare, which he thinks is robust; improving the patient experience through using IoT in healthcare; and the benefits and dangers of sharing data generated by wearable health technology devices.

This is the first part of a two-part Q&A.

How can hospitals use Apple Watch or IoT in healthcare?

Frank Palermo: If you look broadly at mobile and [IoT] in the provider side of healthcare, they really have made progress in recent years, whether it be equipment tracking through RFID [radio frequency identification] tagging, whether it be using tablets from a patient care perspective -- many medical questionnaires are now on tablets. All of your medical records can be digitally accessed and your vitals are going in, so the whole foundation has been set… [I think of] the watch as a very sophisticated monitoring device for patients both during the in-hospital episode of care and after. 

All of your medical records can be digitally accessed and your vitals are going in, so the whole foundation has been set.
Frank Palermo

It's the whole recording of biometrics, and how quickly those biometrics can be integrated. The whole outpatient side of it is where it really gets interesting, with medication adherence. Most post-care follow-up is not really compliant. So the patient leaves the hospital: Are they doing what they're supposed to be doing? The device can be used as a way to either remind, schedule or track. What are the things that have to be done in care episodes, from taking medication to maybe doing the right number of PT [physical therapy] exercises, and follow-up appointments? There's a whole set of care management possibilities.

Why Apple Watch as opposed to other smartwatches? Is it just because so many doctors are in the Apple ecosystem?

Palermo: Why Apple is generally successful is because Apple just doesn't release devices. They release platforms and ecosystems, so they provide a lot of what's needed, whether it is [Apple] HealthKit or integration with other wearables. App providers are already thinking about [Apple] Watch apps. So they kind of create this end-to-end capability that I think really streamlines adoption. And the way they design interfaces and represent the information in these various form factors is effective. So whether you're using Glances or other features of the watch -- it's a little bit of a training period -- once you start to get used to it, it sort of becomes a way of life and an expectation. Go back to the original wheel on the iPod. When we first had that control, I don't think anybody quite knew how to use it or what the heck it was, but it rapidly became one of the best paradigms. It was almost like the old RIM [Blackberry] trackball for email. It's these new paradigms. Apple really has a knack for designing into the product things that make them desirable, and that desirability drives adoption.

Apple Watch already has health apps. Athenahealth has one. Vocera has one for clinical communications. Dexcom has a blood glucose monitoring app. Even Cerner has an Apple Watch app. So that's just right out of the gate. With health-and-fitness-tracking wearables already popular in the consumer market and on Apple Watch, what about more technical FDA-approved Class II medical wearables? How prevalent will wearables and IoT in healthcare be in five or 10 years?

Palermo: It just gets down to practicality and affordability and the cost side of it. I'm sure they'll come out with some lower cost models around the watch, but the price point is still going to be pretty high. Thinking about wearables, some of the Class II devices, whether it be a Phillips Healthcare digital diagnostic-type of device, or Phillips Lifeline-type devices, I think the price points of those devices are going to be pretty compelling. So I don't think they go away. What happens is maybe the watch begins to interoperate with them, or maybe there's a set of things that these Class II devices are doing that can integrate into the broader watch applications.

Continue on to part two to read more about Apple Watch and IoT in healthcare.

Let us know what you think about the story or healthcare IoT; email Shaun Sutner, news and features writer, or contact @SSutner on Twitter.

Next Steps

Learn more about native Apple Watch apps

HIMSS 2015 topics include IoT in healthcare and interoperability

Where will Apple Watch stand in the healthcare smartwatch market?

This was last published in June 2015

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