Unintended Consequences of Wearable Sensor Use in Healthcare

Journal: IMIA Yearbook
ISSN: 0943-4747

Unintended Consequences: New Problems and New Solutions

Issue: 2016: IMIA Yearbook 2016
Pages: 73-86

Unintended Consequences of Wearable Sensor Use in Healthcare

Contribution of the IMIA Wearable Sensors in Healthcare WG

Special Section: Unintended Consequences: New Problems and New Solutions

Working Group Contributions

M. Schukat (1), D. McCaldin (2), K. Wang (3), G. Schreier (4), N. H. Lovell (3), M. Marschollek (5), S. J. Redmond (3)

(1) Department of Information Technology, NUI Galway, Ireland; (2) Graduate College of Engineering and Informatics, NUI Galway, Ireland; (3) Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia; (4) Digital Safety & Security Department, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH, Graz, Austria; (5) Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics, University of Braunschweig-Institute of Technology and Hanover Medical School, Hanover, Germany


software, privacy, monitoring, wearable, physiologic


Objectives: As wearable sensors take the consumer market by storm, and medical device manufacturers move to make their devices wireless and appropriate for ambulatory use, this revolution brings with it some unintended consequences, which we aim to discuss in this paper. Methods: We discuss some important unintended consequences, both beneficial and unwanted, which relate to: modifications of behavior; creation and use of big data sets; new security vulnerabilities; and unforeseen challenges faced by regulatory authorities, struggling to keep pace with recent innovations. Where possible, we proposed potential solutions to unwanted consequences. Results: Intelligent and inclusive design processes may mitigate unintended modifications in behavior. For big data, legislating access to and use of these data will be a legal and political challenge in the years ahead, as we trade the health benefits of wearable sensors against the risk to our privacy. The wireless and personal nature of wearable sensors also exposes them to a number of unique security vulnerabilities. Regulation plays an important role in managing these security risks, but also has the dual responsibility of ensuring that wearable devices are fit for purpose. However, the burden of validating the function and security of medical devices is becoming infeasible for regulators, given the many software apps and wearable sensors entering the market each year, which are only a subset of an even larger ‘internet of things’. Conclusion: Wearable sensors may serve to improve wellbeing, but we must be vigilant against the occurrence of unintended consequences. With collaboration between device manufacturers, regulators, and end-users, we balance the risk of unintended consequences occurring against the incredible benefit that wearable sensors promise to bring to the world.

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