Credit: CC BY-SA BY 2.0 BY OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
The world recognizes the American healthcare system for its innovation in precision medicine, surgical techniques, medical devices, and drug development. But they’ve been slow to adopt 21st century technology to enhance the patient experience.
Some resistance to change is due to their reliance on legacy computer systems. And health care providers who are fluent in a pre-internet system fear that technological tools will add layers of complexity, or worse—dilute their gold standard of care.
But many are starting to see the value in collecting patient-reported data to make informed treatment decisions.
Shifting to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) was the first step in integrating technology into healthcare. With access to EMRs, providers realized how easy it was to locate important patient information, research trends within their patient population, and most importantly—communicate directly with their patients themselves.
Now most healthcare professionals recognize the importance of opening up a two-way communication channel with patients. In a move to improve overall quality of care, many providers are taking advantage of internet of things (IoT) technology. This way they can receive targeted and passive data from patients to make more informed treatment decisions and/or intervene if problems arise. These patient-reported outcomes (PROs) are also referred to as patient-generated health data (PGHD).
Patients are already reporting data to providers—through analog means
The healthcare industry has long been reliant on patient reported data to prescribe treatment plans and even diagnoses. Every clinical visit begins with patients manually updating their medical history. Patients use food and symptom diaries to communicate information to their providers, which in turn informs decisions of care. These pieces of information are often fundamental to piecing together a diagnosis. Without patient-reported data, healthcare providers are unaware of what is happening medically in patients’ day-to-day lives.
Using sensors to communicate common clinical concerns
Simple sensors can be a powerful way to communicate health-related data to care providers. Through communication of patient vitals, healthcare staff can determine if intervention is necessary. Heart rate, blood pressure, and other metrics help diagnose common conditions, like hypertension, weight gain, and uncontrolled blood sugar. These sensors can even be “contactless”—like those developed by University of Florida researchers.
Using sensors to monitor chronic disease
Wireless biometric sensors can be a way to keep watch on patients living with chronic illness. By collecting data, they can infer correlations between a variety of conditions (environmental, physiological, etc.) and a patient’s health. For instance, halter monitors and other devices can be used to transmit cardiac telemetry information to physicians and nursing staff who are able to determine if intervention is needed. Patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) can be monitored for clotting risks by utilizing finger sticks that are then interpreted by a networked device, letting physicians know if medications like Coumadin should be adjusted. Further, for AF patients, there are implantable monitoring systems currently in development.
And for patients with diabetes, an estimated 29 million in the US alone—there are many new innovative solutions for sharing patient glucose data with providers. Often described by clinicians as being one of the more time consuming aspects of diabetic care management, these new tools—from software platforms to networked hardware are simplifying data collection and reporting.
Patients want to take a more active role in their health management
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Survey of US Health Care Consumers, nearly 40% of patients surveyed expressed interest in using technology to monitor health and communicate information to providers. And 33% of older patients expressed interest in using technology for fall detection. In addition, caregivers saw the value in location tracking sensors for family members or loved ones with cognitive limitations at risk for wandering off. Many older patients viewed this as a technology that could help sustain their independence.
The potential for improved outcomes and overall efficiency
Studies suggest that using these technologies for patient reporting could reduce the annual costs of per capita healthcare spending and healthcare management costs of some chronic illnesses by up to 30%. This could offer significant savings in medical expenses and allow those funds to be reallocated to other purposes, such as research and development. More and more, healthcare organizations are employing quality measures taken from Lean Six Sigma methodologies as a way to capitalize on an organization’s strengths while streamlining and standardizing procedures. At the center of these initiatives is the patient—whose long-term health and wellness drives improvement efforts.
Technology-enabled healthcare is the way of the future. Experts predict that the global IoT-based health care market will grow by nearly 38 percent from 2015 to 2020. Physicians and other healthcare professionals know that the patient-provider relationship is essential to quality care and see technology as a way to augment that, not replace it. Future health technology solutions will need to stay attuned to that philosophy and develop products and tools that are simple, effective, and offer clear improvement outcomes.