By Britni Jones, Product Manager, Validic
“My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.” Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball
I grew up playing basketball. It has always been a very significant part of my life, my personality, and my family. I grew up in a basketball family. Even my stepdad played and coached basketball, and of course my dad! I made it through grade school, high school, and college playing competitively without a serious injury. I played intramurals in graduate school, just to prove to people, “I got game.” Basketball is more than a sport to me. It’s a drive.
Despite not being habitually active for several years after my college days, I thought I still had it. To be fair, I did still have the skill and the drive – but my body wasn’t the same. My mind told my body to drive through the lane at 100 mph, but my knee was adhering to a 35 mph, residential speed limit. Being strong-willed, I continued to push the speed limit of my body for about a year. I finally got caught. I couldn’t get into bed. It was a combination of a weird motion off the basketball court and repeated abuse to my knees on the court. It was time for physical therapy.
When I began my physical therapy program, I was excited to connect my Apple Watch to my healthcare provider’s system after starting at Validic. I’m a product manager for our core platform, and for me, this was the perfect way to jump right into our users’ experiences. With high hopes, I connected my device, became more active in their patient portal, and downloaded the app.
Making Use of the Patient Portal
My provider’s online portal is a large step forward from my traditional experience with healthcare. It handles typically time-consuming administrative tasks in a matter of seconds. Requesting a prescription refill, waiting on the doctor to get the message and fill it, then calling the right pharmacy would easily take a couple days, if not more. Now, the entire process takes me 20 seconds with their mobile app – and the prescription is waiting on me, usually within the day. Billing, appointments, reminders, and questionnaires are all handled through the portal. This was perfect for me! I never have to wait on hold again. I can even send my doctor a message through the portal.
I was impressed by how much my health system incorporated technology to streamline their processes. As a result, when I did need to call my doctor’s office, hold times were negligible. I wondered: why I hadn’t used the portal until now? I realized, it was because of my concerns regarding data privacy. Trusting the stereotypically antiquated health systems with my digital, sensitive data. Health systems are generally some of the last adopters to incorporate technology into their business. After working at Validic, and understanding where the health industry stands with patient data, I was relieved, and more equipped to take better care of myself. But, it also made me realize that many patients today are often unaware of how to – or simply hesitant to – share their data with their doctor. Patients need the education on the tools available to them to take advantage in a meaningful way – I was able to find that, but for others it isn’t so easy.
Now, the next steps for me were to see how my physical therapist can help me to take care of myself and help me recover.
How apps can make the difference
Each physical training session had notes, workouts, evaluations, and more. This transparency and access to data after each session was great. The clinic also incorporated another app – MedBridge Go – to provide workout videos, assigned reps, and a workout to follow along with for my at-home development. The app was instrumental in my success. Having this app detail workouts as I performed them was crucial. I synced my Apple Watch with the workouts to create an additional data point and help me remain motivated outside of the app. I was starting to get better!
Then, the process got more complicated. New workouts were introduced that were not represented in MedBridge Go, and the app itself was crashing and deleting previous workouts. It was useless unless I wanted to simply reference old workouts. As a result, my workout consistency declined. I relied more heavily on my Apple Watch to keep me motivated and track workouts. Even though I found success in keeping myself on track, my physical trainer wasn’t looking at my Apple Watch data.The primary care doctor who sent me to physical therapy used smart device data to track patients, but either my PT or all PTs were not tracking this data. Most importantly, I was not being held to the level of accountability the app provided.
My motivation decreased as workouts increased in difficulty and the time between visits increased. I wasn’t getting the most out of my physical therapy. Bare in mind, to suddenly change my lifestyle without a strong self-motivation is no easy feat. But, as a techie, to be given the tech support and then have it taken away made it even more difficult. The motivation my watch and the app provided directly impacted my performance. I’m still going to physical therapy and getting better, but much slower than I could be.
My provider nailed some things as it pertains to tech but there are obvious ways the system can improve. Incorporating device data into physical therapy sessions and maintaining the workout tracking system throughout all of the physical therapy could’ve made a huge difference. Allowing device data to incorporate directly with the workout tracking system – MedBridge Go – would be a substantial improvement.
All of these suggestions equate to a feedback loop. Connecting me to my doctor via my smartwatch data could have offered us a way to communicate and understand how the physical therapy was impacting my health. With the online portal streamlining simple administrative tasks and access to my doctor and information, I was able to access care more easily and effectively. And, the incorporation of a third party app into their PT Clinic was also vital for me and I’d imagine other patients – though having an app directly within my provider’s app and portal could’ve made the process one step shorter.
There are still many steps health systems could take to improve their processes with the use of data and technology. My healthcare provider is a leader in this, but it’s clear that even the leaders have challenges they could overcome by leveraging existing technology to better connect with their patients and improve engagement. To truly incorporate a patient like me into my own healthcare experience, using the data I’m already generating, and the tools I’m already using is a must. Though providers are making progress – the online portal did make a huge difference for me, after all – as healthcare continues to incorporate patient-generated health data and new technologies into care, patients will have the opportunity to get more involved and improve their health more quickly and substantially.