Study suggests linking wearable tech to health records to boost insights

Health Data Research (HDR) UK has shared a study indicating that health insights gained from wearable devices and smart tech could be boosted by secure and safe access to electronic health records. 

Referencing an editorial entitled ‘Charting a Course for Smartphones and Wearables to Transform Population Health Research’, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, HDR UK notes that insights gained from remote studies could be used to address current medical concerns across the country.  

The researchers, led by academics from the Universities of Manchester and Oxford, highlight that gathering information through devices such as smartphones has become increasingly popular, but widespread advances have been “hampered by an inability to link with data from the person’s health records”. 

By linking wearable data to current medical records, both researchers and doctors could be provided with a comprehensive analysis of an individual’s health, enabling them to identify relationships between factors such as lifestyle factors or symptoms, or disease onset and severity, the report states.

The authors point out that research priorities set by the public across major conditions  – covering a large proportion of worldwide disease and disability – all include questions that could be addressed by digital devices.

They also highlight the need for public trust, better equality regarding smartphone or wearable device access, and improved data synchrony across studies. 

Associate director for personal monitoring at the BHF Data Science Centre and consultant cardiologist, Professor Tim Chico, said: “This is a very exciting time for wearables research, but it will take a huge joint effort to unleash its full potential and ensure no one is left behind. Our goal is to answer vital research questions that matter to patients across many diseases and wearables have a huge part to play – linking healthcare records in an ethical way will be crucial in this.” 

Lynn Laidlaw, public contributor, peer researcher and co-author of the paper, added: “Smartphone and wearables data has such promise for improving people’s lives through research. Involving patients and the public will be an essential, non-negotiable element to moving the field forward, as unlike current data research such studies can only be undertaken if people are willing to share their data. This changes the existing power dynamic between researchers and the researched. People will need to be assured   that the information they donate is treated appropriately and respectfully and is used to answer questions that matter to them.”