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Physicians Have an Influential Role in Driving Wearables Adoption
By Dinesh Sheth, founder and CEO, Green Circle Health
Though wearable devices that track personal activity have dominated the consumer electronics market in recent years, one research report from Endeavor Partners indicates that nearly one-third of fitness trackers are abandoned within just six months. For providers, these wearables have advanced from counting steps to measuring heart rates and other physiological parameters, while also presenting one of the most cost-effective methods for ongoing monitoring of health data. Despite consumer popularity, adoption of home-based health monitoring and fitness devices and the use of such data among physicians remains low.
Although the payments for such services are typically not covered by payers, the economics of healthcare services are changing in the shift toward pay for performance. In addition, several new legislative initiatives and incentives – targeted at reducing the cost of treatment and improving outcomes – will pave a dynamic way for patient-provider interaction. The expanded availability of healthcare to millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act increased costs, and the healthcare industry is prioritizing self-improvement to boost the overall efficiency and productivity in the evolving model. To this end, it is critical that physicians support the adoption of new devices and monitoring technologies to help patients develop healthy lifestyles and ensure long-term success.
Engagement is a Two-Way Street
The fact remains that even today’s high-tech healthcare facilities do not provide a unified view of patient data. Instead, medical records are typically spread across multiple systems and locations, and patients are not engaged in using health records to improve their own health. This can make a truly collaborative effort among physicians, care providers, patients, and family members impossible.
The industry has, in the past, done little to bring the patient into the equation. Initiatives such as Meaningful Use brought very limited results. For patients, remembering multiple usernames and passwords just to view limited data was hardly an attractive option and still fails to centralize the data that is being captured, stored, and shared. Physicians are baited with the promise of an HIE that could seamlessly tie together all medical records, but the reality of such an exchange is unknown.
The idea to bring patient-generated and -managed healthcare data into the system is a topic of intense debate among physicians, but things are changing rapidly. With remote monitoring of home health devices and wearables, patients are able to generate near real-time vitals that physicians can use to offer timely service, which empowers patients by giving them more control of their lives with appropriate help from physicians. Greater levels of shared understanding means that patients are more likely to acknowledge their conditions, understand their options, and follow through on treatment. In this system, the responsibility rests equally with the provider and the patient – enabling both to benefit from the use of health IT on a day-to-day basis, resulting in higher quality care and positively impacting patient health and physician bottom lines.
Transforming Approaches in Healthcare
The prevalence of activity trackers and a wider availability of technology that measures vitals have created new dynamics, both internally and externally, for healthcare providers. Traditionally, physicians have learned their soft communication skills at the patient bedside, something often considered to be the natural ability of a given practitioner. But medical students today receive instruction on techniques for listening, explaining, questioning, counseling, and motivating. With the use of electronic devices and modern technologies, an ongoing need for training has been created for communication using different methods. Similarly, better communication among nursing staff and physicians has positively impacted healthcare outcomes.
The data provided by today’s health-monitoring devices enables physicians to guide patients toward healthier lifestyles and reduce healthcare costs with greater effectiveness. As a result, physicians can better manage chronic conditions and avoid unnecessary episodic care. This ongoing engagement among physicians, other care providers and family members will help overcome the digital barriers that exist within the healthcare industry. Being connected on the health front, having access to the prescriptions and notes of your physician, getting reminders for your appointments, and being able to transfer information to any care giver is what makes the difference. When addressing existing hurdles in the healthcare system, technology helps to prioritize engagement among patients and providers, resulting in timely care, better outcomes, and reduced costs.
Overcoming More Challenges
Technology’s rate of change will always outpace regulation and as a result, healthcare administrators and staff may be struggling to keep everything secure, well-documented, and linked back into their EHRs. But, just as verbal communication is documented by a physician’s notes, some of the instant communication will have to move into the EHR via notes and other means.
In the wake of all this data being available, the challenge of physicians being able to receive this data and integrate it into their EHRs also looms. Providers need to have a proactive and elaborate approach in managing the increasing volume of inbound data, taking into account the likelihood that more patients will eventually adopt better devices and methods of health-data sharing.
By overcoming these challenges, physicians will eliminate unnecessary visits and quickly adjust treatments and attention as-needed. The quantitative benefit for the healthcare industry is a reduction in costs and the ability to see a greater number of patients when they need help in a most effective way, while the qualitative impact is an improved patient experience with better outcomes and being more in tune with evolving patient ‘adopted’ behaviors.
Dinesh Sheth is founder and CEO of Green Circle Health.