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The Politics of Health Care

Will 2015 Be The Year Your Watch Teaches You About Your Health?

Published February 5, 2015 8:57 AM by Robby Chakler
[Editor's note: the following blog post was written by  Dr. van Terheyden, CMIO at Nuance Communications.]

Regardless of which side of the exam table you sit, we're all healthcare consumers. Technology holds the potential to create clinical synergy between patients and caregivers, providing better intelligence about personal health data and outlining proactive measures to take to become better partners in health care.

There is no known medical condition that enables an individual to predict the future.  While such an ability would be extremely useful for myriad reasons, we have, instead, learned to hone and leverage our analytic skills to deduce what might occur, relying on the data we cull and parse to help forecast the future.  So, when it comes to predicting the year ahead, we should consider the one we just had.

Regardless of which side of the exam table you sit, we're all healthcare consumers

Consumer technology is often a good indicator of what type of capabilities and functionalities might be in store for health IT.  This past year, we saw major players in the tech space announce their forays into healthcare.  While this will not be without its challenges, it does not diminish the underlying fact that there is a need and want for better technology in healthcare- regardless of whether you are a patient looking to effectively manage your weight or a physician struggling to juggle patient care and administrative duties.

In the last year, we saw a wave of next-generation wearable devices flood the market, and as a result, we, as patient consumers, now have streamlined access to information such as our daily step count and average heart-rate on our watches.  We know that ease-of-use, understandability, and some level of gameification ("Congratulations! You've reached your target heart rate today!") are vital to maintaining engagement.

I believe this is the beginning of something much larger, a groundswell movement that will result in patients wanting more information about their health data, and, more importantly, craving a better understanding of what all these numbers actually mean and how to positively impact them. Achieving this level of engagement demands a simpler intelligent interface that doesn't require a learning curve, but is one that consumers can just use. Clever user interface designs can only go so far, particularly given the small visual real estate available on wearable devices, and the addition of capabilities such as intelligent voice assistants will be an integral part of this explosion of personal health management.

Having a heart-to-heart about your heart

Technology holds the potential to create clinical synergy, bringing patient consumers (who have become professional health IT consumers, or health prosumers) better intelligence about their personal health data and outlining the proactive measures they can take to become better partners in their own health.  The average patient consumer may not have a reaction to the phrase "Your Protime this week is 3.3," but for someone with a heart condition, this number is very important and indicates how fast her blood is clotting.  The data, while extremely useful to a clinician, is only helpful to the patient if she understands what it means and how she can take the right actions as a result.

The future is about patients managing their own care and working alongside clinicians to drive better outcomes.  To the woman who has a Protime of 3.3, access to these results supplemented with clinical guidelines would mean that she wouldn't need to wait for her physician to call with diet recommendations, she would know her blood is clotting too slowly and that she might have an inadequate protein consumption or might need to increase her vitamin K intake.  If the number required that her Coumadin dosage be adjusted, this would be the point where her physician would reach out to her to discuss.

Although a basic example, it is one that has endless permutations when it comes to building a more engaged patient population.  There is no one more invested in your health than you, and the person who cares the next most about keeping you well, is your physician.  I believe that clinical synergy will be driven by both patients, who want to actively manage their chronic conditions and take meaningful preventative care measures, and physicians who want to empower their patients to better understand how the choices they make have significant health implications.  Technology is the connective fiber that can enable the transmission of this important data, and help translate it into wisdom.  And that truly is the crux-the data flowing between patient and physician must be relevant and meaningful.  That ability for technology to determine the relevancy of health data information is just around the corner and soon our wearables will be able to notify our health information data that deviates from our personal "normal" results.

Approximately 75 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditure is related to chronic care management, imagine the impact this level of clinical synergy will have on driving a healthier population while reducing cost.  I'm ready, are you?

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