As healthcare stakeholders collectively move away from reactive treatment and toward proactive management and care, physicians are in desperate need of real-time, remote patient information to preempt negative health events.
Wearables and in-home clinical devices provide comprehensive, out-of-hospital patient insights necessary for a value-based care system to function efficiently and effectively. Patient-generated health data (PGHD) offers physicians valuable routine and lifestyle insights, like sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, weight, activity levels, and so on — which indicate a patient’s health, decision-making, program adherence, and outcomes.
With more than 40% of US households (with broadband) owning a connected health device, the availability of patient-generated health data is proving to be a large opportunity for healthcare providers to capitalize on as a means to better understand their populations.
As clinicians and researchers alike look to find the most accurate, secure data available, skepticism tends to arise when it comes to usability of wearables data in a clinical setting. Physicians are rightfully asking whether digital health data from wearables and in-home clinical devices can stack up to the rigorous clinical standards of in-hospital devices. In reality, in-hospital devices require regular calibration, and without it, can see diminishing accuracy. However, the data that wearables and remote medical devices provide offer important insights into patient health that are often otherwise completely unavailable.
Though the increasing sophistication of sensors in wearable and in-home devices is helping quickly improve the accuracy of technology, activity trackers may not provide data that is 100 percent accurate. What they do provide, perhaps more importantly, are aggregate trends with an accurate view into the progress or setbacks of a patient. For instance, if a patient recently discharged from a knee surgery takes 1,000 steps on the first day; that doesn’t matter as much as the progressive trend from 1,000 to 10,000 over several weeks — indicating treatment adherence and positive outcomes. The data points and trends these devices provide are clinically relevant in care delivery, management, and coordination.
Rather than replacing clinical decision-making tools and processes in the hospital, the information gathered from these wearables and in-home devices offer valuable information that can augment and support a clinician’s decision-making process. Instead of making a clinical decision on a single data point, physicians can use PGHD to identify trends in a patient’s health and intervene before a negative health event occurs to improve outcomes.
To efficiently manage patient populations — specifically those with chronic diseases — providers need these data to support the continuous monitoring of patient’s health-related activities outside of the clinical setting.
For example, if a provider notices a significant decrease in the activity levels of a person with diabetes’ — as indicated by his or her wearable device data — this could indicate a downgrade in his or her condition, the onset of a cardiac or depressive episode, or a myriad of other problems. While the total number of steps might not be 100 percent accurate, the patient’s provider will recognize the value of general walking and activity trends over time.
Similarly, such information about patients at risk for heart failure can be equally important. Heart failure patients will show similar trends — restless sleep, high blood pressure and weight gain — all of which can be monitored with the most basic tracking devices. If these trends become apparent, doctors can bring patients to the hospital for further testing or new treatments — before a negative health event occurs. Doctors understand that a trend of blood pressure readings above 150 should trigger a check on the patient and possibly an intervention.
Adding Context to Data
Most data requires the context and knowledge of medical personnel, especially as the data relates to the management of a chronic condition or post-discharge summary. Consider FDA-approved glucose tests. Two finger pricks only minutes apart can yield different results — and medical professionals understand this and can adjust accordingly.
That kind of context with wearable health trackers is now available, as well, increasing their value in healthcare for the millions of patients already tracking their health data outside of the doctor’s office.
Physicians need the right data at the right time in order to take the right action.
Through trackers, we can monitor patients in ways that were never before possible. We, as an industry, can’t slow down adopting new techniques in patient tracking and care.
The pace of innovation in this space is increasing. As the pressure mounts to provide high quality care at increasingly lowered costs, the data offered by these devices provides an opportunity for providers to make more insightful decisions for their patients.