Is EHR and wearable technology integration around the corner?

The electronic health record market is growing, but not as quickly as one may have assumed. A report from Kalorama Information found that in 2013 the total revenue of the EHR market was $23.2 billion, which grew from $20.7 billion the previous year. More providers are discovering their proper solution and sticking to it. However, mobile and wearable technology may cause the industry to become disrupted again.

EHR vendors are seeking out ways to make their programs easier to use and more interoperable with existing medical devices as well as future mobile and wearable technology. Google Glass, Nike+, smartphones and tablets might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Future technology
Google has recently created a contact lens with microscopic sensors that measure blood-glucose levels for diabetes patients. According to InformationWeek, the company has teamed up with biotechnology leader Novartis and contact lens creator Alcon in order to create smart lens technology for ocular medical uses. It also reported that Google is working on a lens that will allow the eye to autofocus for patients with presbyopia.

To extrapolate future digital contact lens uses in the medical world is not difficult. A gadget in the eye could measure a variety of vital signs and relay the information to a patient's smartphone or directly to his or her EHR.

Google Glass is already being used in surgical procedures, according to VentureBeat. Homero Rivas, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center, live-streamed a demonstration of surgery conducted with the aid of a Google Glass application called MedicAR. This program allows physicians to view procedure details overlayed on the patient's body. Essentially, it lets surgeons see inside their patients before making an incision.

"Soon, I'll be able to implement all the algorithms from the MRI, send it to Glass, and then sit in front of the patient on the examining table," Rivas told VentureBeat. "I'll lay my eyes on the abdomen and see the hologram of the MRI to determine exactly where the mass is."

If EHR data and vital signs can be integrated into physicians' line of sight, they will hardly ever need to take their eyes off of the patient. The key to developing applications like MedicAR relies on physicians' willingness to use EHR programs, and technology manufacturers will need to work side by side with the vendors to ensure proper integration. Rivas told InformationWeek that he envisions a future where there are dozens of uses for Google Glass, such as performing surgeries while wearing the device for medical experts around the world to see and provide feedback in real time.

Apple is currently in the process of making its devices work in harmony with EHR systems. The company is working with vendors to ensure that it becomes a leader in mobile health care, while Google and Samsung are also making attempts at integrating new technologies with medical devices, according to Reuters. The Mayo Clinic is testing services that alert patients to abnormal vitals based on the results collected from applications and devices such as smart watches. Physicians can then offer information on the conditions and treatment recommendations. Apple wants to collect all of the health data possible and allow physicians to access it and add the information to EHRs.

"Apple is going into this space with a data play," Skip Snow, health care analyst at Forrester Research, told Reuters. "They want to be a hub of health data."

With data collection comes Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance concerns. HIPAA requires the protection of all health information that can allow the user to know who the data belongs to personally. If Apple works with any EHR vendor to store and share information with providers, then it will need to ensure compliance. While leaders in technology are most likely familiar with data regulations, the new application developers may be in unknown waters. For example, the MedicAR program will need to be secure and HIPAA compliant in order for it to transmit video to other physicians or medical students.

The responsibility will immediately fall on the developer of health applications, whether they be on smartphones, watches or Google Glass. However, physicians will need to identify safe and reliable applications that can benefit their patients.

How far away is the technology?
These devices will be here much sooner than some may believe. While there is no EHR integrate quite yet, Google Glass is being used in numerous ways by surgeons because its price tag, at $1,500, is a small fraction of the cost of MRI machines and other medical devices. VentureBeat reported that a surgeon from Madrid used Google Glass to stream a surgical procedure to other doctors at 300 universities and hospitals across five continents in 2013. Additionally, Apple is working on its data storage application HealthKit with EHR vendors right now, and it is expected to be a part of iPhone 6 this September, according to Reuters.

Physicians are calling for mobile wearable technology to be integrated with their existing systems. Their wish may come true soon.