Senior woman holding a mobile device using a patient engagement application.

Patient engagement can be improved by medical wearables

September 11, 2017 | BY BIOTRICITY

Patient engagement is the cornerstone of population health management and value-based care. Engaging patients is not just about providing individuals with basic health information in the form of print-heavy brochures or a regular checkup with a physician. It’s about providing personalized information that is both relevant and useful, because the reality is that each patient has their own varying needs, views, and motivations when it comes to managing their personal health.

One-size-fits-most treatment plans simply don’t work. In the US alone, $100-$300 billion healthcare dollars are wasted due to patient noncompliance annually. Many patients face barriers that keep them from adhering to their recommended treatment plans. These individuals have poorer outcomes and greater out-of-pocket expenses. Nonadherent patients also cost physicians more time, resources, and money due to Medicare’s Merit-Based Incentive Plan, which incentivizes care facilities and practitioners to improve care quality, of which patient adherence makes up a large portion. Behavior change is difficult, and it is up to physicians and care facilities to provide patients with innovative tools and techniques that will make patients more likely to adhere to treatment plans and take a proactive approach to their own health.

Advantages of both adherence and engagement

Traditional ways of promoting patient engagement such as handouts and frequent reminder calls lack scalability and are expensive, and time-consuming. Digital engagement tools can provide greater convenience and functionality at a much lower cost. These tools give patients the right information at the right time (think text reminders to take a medication), which improves patient adherence to treatment plans and drives better outcomes. More powerful than increasing patient adherence is patient engagement, which can be fostered through portable medical devices. Patient engagement through the use of medical devices is not only excellent for improving health and satisfaction, it has peripheral benefits such as portability, continuous data collection, and the potential to catch emergency situations.

The added value of being portable

Portability means both time and money savings.  Medical devices deployed to the patient before the patient’s health reaches crisis mode can predict and catch events as they happen and inform the appropriate parties. This capability not only saves lives, but also time, money, and stress. Imagine an elderly patient, around 65 years old, who has infrequent heart arrhythmias. This chronic condition needs monitoring over the long term, and if a healthcare team  had a way of closely monitoring the patient’s cardiac activity remotely and continuously it would aid in the diagnostic process. Furthermore, constant monitoring means that the data stream is continuous, so if a cardiac event occurs the appropriate parties can be contacted. Remote monitoring with a portable device eliminates the initial need for a specialist referral, and cuts out the patient’s need to travel to the clinic. All of this saves time, money and stress on the patient. The challenge lies in figuring out how to deploy such solutions without burdening physicians with a heavy learning curve, increased work, excess data, or a dramatic change in their workflow.

The added value of medical data collection

Finally, medical devices that are capable of amassing patient data are invaluable in the age of value-based care. Devices that can automatically collect, compile, and compare patient data, and determine the data’s clinical relevance will be invaluable. They will be able to provide feedback and follow-up to patients and physicians as they move forward with recovery and prevention. Furthermore, amassing patient data means that these devices not only learn and aid in patient diagnoses, but they also develop the capacity to predict and prevent catastrophic health events and chronic conditions. For example, Medtronic worked with IBM Watson Health to develop Sugar IQ. The app is a mobile personal assistant enhanced with AI that aims to provide real-time actionable glucose insights and predictions for individuals with diabetes, which can help to make daily diabetes management easier and improve patient engagement.

Essential for patient engagement: the feedback loop

Innovations in medical technology, like portable medical devices, have the capacity to be built with human nature in mind.  From maintaining weight loss to diabetes management, when patients receive a score or feedback on their progress, or when they are socially engaged, they are more likely to improve their outcomes and become active in their healthcare regimens. When innovators take gamification and social incentives into account, solutions that are engaging and effective can be created.

Many mobile medical devices are seeking out ways to include gamification in their software to engage patients in more positive and dependable ways. These devices have the advantage of being able to connect patients with a community of users with similar conditions from all over the world. This study on reddit social groups evidences the importance of positive peer feedback. Most importantly, mobile medical devices can offer individual patients a constant companion that shares reminders, relevant feedback, and informed advice on their specific health condition. It’s like carrying around a health coach in your pocket. By keeping patients connected with and engaged in their own health, mobile devices create a knowledgeable, agentive person who not only adheres better to treatment plans but also seeks out prevention strategies.