Wearable Tech In Healthcare: Transforming Patient Engagement


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Today, patients are quite savvy digitally, and many look forward to their medical practitioners making use of the data they have personally tracked when undergoing care.

The fine line between medical devices and consumer wearable technology devices (healthcare wearables) is beginning to fade. So then, how do we help patients make pan out all the data at hand and comprehend its reliability as well as validity to engage more in their own care?

Healthcare wearables were great social gathering conversation starters, not many took them solemnly. They started off as smart little gadgets that could count how many miles you ran or steps you took or calories you burned.

A few years down the line, in an instant, they were everywhere. Wearable technology has ascended faster than anyone could have envisaged. It isn’t only being used by consumers, but also by surgeons, physicians, and insurance companies. It is changing the dynamics of the entire healthcare realm.

Among US consumers, the use of health wearables had doubled in a mere span of 2 years from around 9% in 2014 to 21% in 2016, according to an Accenture survey. The survey also states that 85% of doctors and seventy-seven percent of consumers agree that using wearables helps patients engage in their health.

Wearables are great for health monitoring since they are always-on tracking and come in discrete designs. If you have one of those standalone smartwatches that functions on cellular connection, you don’t even need to pair it with a cellphone to track data – autonomous wearables can perpetually monitor your wellbeing in the backdrop as you go about your day.

Now that we have some idea about what healthcare wearables truly do, let’s look at some ways in which wearable technology is transforming the face of patient engagement.

1) Approachable mental health interventions

The stigma around mental health disorders makes it difficult for a majority to seek out help. Many people fear losing their jobs, friends or even their loved ones.

It is encouraging to see how technology is matching pace at length with the cumulative need for improved mental health. Despite the fact that it is still in the preliminary stage, mental health wearables are displaying signs of true value in helping us self- examine mental disorders and even receive customized advice on how our situation can be improved.

Today, myriad apps and devices are available to individuals in their daily lives and in the privacy of their own homes that extend to mental health. 

With the accessibility of aid through the increasing number of mental health applications that can be used on a smartphone, therapeutic support has become easily available, affordable and portable to almost everyone. For example, two such services, BetterHelp and Talkspace, can be suggested to patients seeking advice, so as to connect them with a mental health counsellor. 

The innumerable sensors located in wearables can record and keep track of the factors that affect our mental health. 

Here are a few ways in which wearables collect data for our mental well-being:

  • Sleep Tracking: Without sufficient sleep, one can easily be vulnerable to various mental health disorders. A sleep tracker that you wear to bed makes it convenient to track your sleep stages.
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Anxiety can be a real pain at times and it can be detected by an increase in your heart rate. Mental Health Wearables make it possible to monitor your heart rate with utmost ease.
  • Proximity Detection: This feature can help individuals detect their social interactions. Now they won’t withdraw entirely and slip into depression.
  • Electronic Sensors: Various electronic sensors can be added to the wearable. These can then track body temperature and with the help of EEG electrodes, an individual can also compute his/ her level of mental attention.

If the wearable is connected to a unit that is operated by a physician, it becomes a treasure trove of data. All this would finally round off in long-term welfare of the patient.

2) Online communities for emotional support

Corroboration in support of the emotional gains attained by patients when engaging in online communities has been increasing. This online resource has become a medium for patients to offer treatment insights, share their experiences, and to unearth answers when their physician is unavailable. It has also enhanced the healing process across many chronic conditions.

Engaging in online communities may profit clinicians too since these forums introduce an environment for physicians to gain insights and learn about common patient concerns while offering precise medical information that may eliminate treatment misunderstandings and myths commonly being shared.

Results of an assessment, considering benefits procured from online support groups, were recently shared in the Journal of Health Communication. They quoted that these patients experienced commendable emotional support when blogging and friending features were used. This may perform as a significant tool for medical practitioners to interact with patients, transforming dynamics of the physician-patient communication model.

Particularly, when clinicians participate in an online circle, the odds of increasing patient engagement go up, eventually bringing practices and patients closer together—building bonds and stimulating greater trust in their clinical care. Physicians now consider connecting with their own patients through social media, through online communities, or even by text.

3) More power in the hands of patients

More and more patients are sharing data from their wearables with doctors, despite the fact that they don’t need to track their vitals for medical motives. Devices track things like exercise routines and sleep patterns, which have a significant effect on holistic wellbeing, but aren’t included in medical records—unless patients share details and doctors note them down. 

Interpreting data from wearables, patients can take the initiative to discuss and monitor their own health. Their relation with physicians becomes informative, rather than hierarchical.

Wearables also help differently abled individuals go about their daily lives without external aid. For instance, haptic shoes provide GPS technology for visually impaired people to navigate and special glasses enable them to see.  Smart glasses let people with cerebral palsy take pictures and explore the internet. Some other wearables help people manage diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea by themselves.

In the future, wearables can prevent or even treat more severe illnesses. IBM is partnering up with Pfizer to produce wearables that track the progress and reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by gathering rich data on cognition, dyskinesia, motor function, and sleep.

4) Clinical trials aren’t restricted to clinics anymore

Compliance and monitoring are recurrent issues in clinical trials. Healthcare wearables provide a fitting solution. According to one report, approximately 300 clinical trials have hitherto brought wearables to use for monitoring patients. Google has constructed a brand-new wearable designed for clinical trial participants. It can measure the wearer’s heartbeat rhythm, pulse, skin temperature, as well as exposure to noise and light.

On the other hand, wearable gadgets such as Apple Watch, allow users to track their health data passively at all times, even when they are fast asleep, ascertaining the accuracy and timeliness of the particulars. Wearable devices are changing the way clinical trials are conducted with the level of engagement they deliver and growing consumer adoption.

Researchers can examine the data gathered through wearables to build more beneficial insights into individual and population trends gradually. A persistent stream of data extracted from wearables will provide researchers with a better understanding of results, and may also lead to increased patient participation.

Closing Words

Wearable technology plays a vital role in today’s healthcare advancement. Wearables are closely entwined with a progressing healthcare delivery model. With this newly discovered model, care is being delivered to the patient’s doorstep, rather than the patient having to visit a medical facility.

At the same time, numerous medical devices are becoming more compact and mobile, launching new substitutes to conventional means providers have performed tests, interacted with patients, collected data and delivered treatments.

Physicians can easily utilize the data collected from these devices as part of their assessment. In this way, the information will become more functional in the care of the patient and therefore, improve engagement.

 

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