Wearable technology is widely predicted to integrate within the NHS over the next five years, however, before it becomes the norm the NHS must deal with privacy challenges.
The most obvious advantage for caring staff would be to have a central wearable application with the ability to provide information on real-time patient conditions, combined with the opportunity to alert staff to various situations. Potential applications are endless and wearable technology could also help remind patients to take their medication and reduce the need for GP and hospital visits.
There has also been discussion within the industry of using Google Glass to record operations, along with using Microsoft’s virtual reality headset to connect to operating Robots.
“I’m sure wearables will become embedded within NHS practice, though I suspect it is probably a few years off,” the Royal Free Hospital’s chief information officer Will Smart says.
“Six years ago we didn’t use tablets much but we’re already getting into wearables now…I think in five years’ time there will be a lot more of that kind of technology in place,” Graham Softley, associate IT director at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust.
A freedom of information request last year uncovered that 83% of NHS trusts don’t have a strategy for managing wearable technology, despite its important role. The main concern for many is not with the devices themselves, but with how the NHS secures the information which has been stored.
In addition to fine tuning privacy concerns, the NHS will also have to ensure that it has adequate and secure space to store and analyse patient information. This in itself is a challenge.
The health care revolution
The Apple Watch this year has already paved the way for wearable technology and its relationship to health, with the ability to store around 60 different types of data including blood pressure and glucose levels.
“It opens up the public market for self-funders to manage and support their own wellbeing,” commented Jim Ellam, assistive technology lead at Staffordshire County Council.
“For the first time technology means vital signs can be monitored remotely, we can be automatically prompted about appointments, if mum went for a walk I know where she is, it’s almost limitless in terms of what it could do,” he adds.
“I can see a situation where devices monitor your health, send you alerts to take your medication or see your doctor. It would help us get fitter, live longer and require fewer interventions,” Camden Council CIO John Jackson says.
When addressing the future of cloud computing and wearable technology in the NHS, Will Smart stated: “I suspect the first things we’ll move to cloud are some infrastructure services. We’re looking at virtualising our desktops, getting that to be cloud based.” He continued. “You can’t rule anything out. But we have to be convinced on cost and security. We’re a very regulated environment.”