Is the smartwatch ready for your practice?

February 15, 2016

Similar to their smartphone counterparts, smartwatch applications allow physicians to view schedules, basic patient information, and communicate with ancillary staff.

Take-home message: Similar to their smartphone counterparts, smartwatch applications allow physicians to view schedules, basic patient information, and communicate with ancillary staff.

Tech Talk

Ophthalmic clinical practice continues to be reshaped by technology. While each advent has provided potential opportunities to simplify the delivery of patient care, new wearable technology may be changing the patient-physician relationship. Is the next wave of wearable technology-smartwatches-ready for your office?

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Smartwatches are a particularly high-profile sector in wearable devices. Though much of the attention of smartwatches has focused on data collection of vital patient statistics, they may also be of significant value to the physician’s clinical practice.

‘A tap on the wrist’

Smartwatches can be used, for example, to receive routine as well as urgent notifications. Smartwatches can create a slight pulse on the physician’s wrist when a call or text is received.

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This “tap on the wrist” potentially can be used to minimize disruption in patient encounters while still communicating urgent messages between a clinician and ancillary clinical personnel. Though these notifications can also be realized with smartphones, the fact that physicians do not have to pull out their phones to view and respond to messages may make the patient experience less obtrusive.

Recognizing this potential, some electronic health record (EHR) companies (such as EPIC) have started to offer HIPAA-compliant, smartwatch applications. Similar to their smartphone counterparts, these watch apps allow physicians to view schedules, basic patient information, and communicate with ancillary staff.

Some potential drawbacks

 

Some potential drawbacks

Some potential drawbacks, however, may present with using wearable technologies in clinic.

Patients may worry that the smartwatch is a barrier between patient and physician communication. Glancing at a watch may be interpreted as boredom by a patient and may even come across as rude.

In addition, wearable devices are currently often expensive and can be seen as a luxury item.

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To quantify these issues, the Yale Eye Center conducted an IRB-approved survey of patient perceptions of physicians’ smartwatches.

In this study, the oculoplastics-attending physician wore one such device (Apple Watch with the EPIC EHR app [Figure 1]), explained its purpose to patients, and asked 100 consecutive patients in the oculoplastics service to rank their preference for physician interruption during office visits. Three-fourths of patients preferred the ancillary staff to knock and interrupt the physician for urgent matters rather than any electronic intrusion.

Despite the fact that smartwatches are less common than smartphones, 90% of patients ranked physician interruption by smartwatch as preferable to smartphone. Also of note were 15 interruptions of all types during the 100 office visits.

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While patient acceptance of physician smartwatches may vary some by region, worldwide sales of wearable technology continue to experience rapid growth. Even after the wearable technologies study at Yale Eye Center ended, the lead author finds the smartwatch (Apple Watch) a useful addition to clinical ophthalmic practice.

 

 

Michael S. Ehrlich, MD, is assistant professor of ophthalmology, oculoplastics and orbital surgery, Yale Eye Center, New Haven, CT.

Megan Rowlands, MPH, is a medical student at Yale School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Yash Vaishnav is a medical student at the Frank H. Netter, MD School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University, North Haven, CT.

None of the authors indicated any proprietary interest in the subject matter.

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