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5 Ways Physicians Can Include Wearables in Their Health Care Plans

High-Tech Wearables and Medical Devices

See 10 innovative products from the January 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). They range from intelligent hearing aids to a handheld ultrasound to smart clothing. 

Wearables allow physicians to remotely monitor patients—creating a booming industry and unprecedented amounts of data that can lead to improved patient care. Thanks to advances in technology, wearables have become more sophisticated yet more affordable. As a result, almost everyone seems to be wearing them, whether it’s to count steps, monitor heart rates or vital signs, or serve another health or wellness function.

The devices produce continuous data that allows physicians to have more information about patients and even monitor them remotely. This helps providers make more informed decisions about individual healthcare treatments, resulting in better quality of care. Here are five ways physicians can leverage wearables to benefit their patients:

1. PREDICT PATIENT ILLNESSES

Physicians can use data from wearables and apply predictive analytics to better understand patients’ potential for illnesses or diseases. New wearables and apps, for example, can collect and monitor vital signs to identify potential coronary problems such as heart disease. Doctors can then provide a course of treatment, including preventive care, to mitigate the risk.

The analytics can be combined with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and other technological approaches to increase the accuracy of predictions. Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that applying AI to the right combination of data from wearables, including wearable sensors, may detect if a person’s health is failing. According to the study, data could predict if a person is experiencing the onset of a respiratory or cardiovascular disease, for example.

Meanwhile, research from Stanford found that wearables can predict health risks before people even know they’re sick. Wearables can tell when a person’s heart rate, skin temperature and other readings have changed, pointing to a possible illness. 

Growing Market for Patient Monitoring

The global market for patient monitoring is expected to reach $37.19 billion by 2025, up from $22.64 billion in 2017, according to a report from Allied Market Research

2. MONITOR AT-HOME PATIENTS

Patient-monitoring wearables provide continuous readings for glucose, blood pressure, pulse and more. As the population ages—20% of U.S. residents will be 65 years or older by 2030—wearables can play a bigger role in care by offering remote monitoring and diagnostic capabilities.

Many traditional wearables track heart rate, sleeping patterns, calories and other details. People suffering from chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease can wear special skin sensors or other wearables that collect additional data. This data can be shared directly with doctors, who can identify issues or changes in health behaviors that require immediate intervention.

In addition, a wearable device that enables chronically ill patients to live at home rather than staying in a hospital or other care facility can save money while allowing people to be in a familiar setting. The devices can send data to doctors or other caregivers for ongoing monitoring.

3. OBSERVE AND ENCOURAGE PATIENTS AFTER SURGERY

The first few days and even weeks after a surgery are fundamentally important for the success of the procedure and how patients recover. The more information that surgeons and caregivers have post-surgery, from complications to exercise to vital signs, the better they can support a successful recovery.

Wearables provide that information while helping both patients and doctors track progress. That’s why, for instance, doctors at a healthcare facility in Los Angeles give Fitbits to patients who have knee or hip replacements or other surgeries to encourage them to walk and track their steps. Walking more after surgery can help improve recovery and reduce the stay in a care facility. Another type of wearable device, like the Claris Reflex, is placed above and below the knee to monitor recovery after a knee replacement. The device collects data including range of motion, exercise compliance, wound area temperature and more, which doctors can analyze.

Facilities such as ambulatory surgery centers (ASC) can use wearables to remind patients of doctors’ instructions after surgery. For example, physicians’ directions can be programmed into apps or wearables for taking medications, recognizing problems like infections, following treatment plans and following a proper diet.

Majority of Consumers Open to Wearables

More than 80% of consumers are willing to wear technical devices that measure healthcare data. That number is expected to climb, according to USA science news.

4. ENABLE PERSONALIZED HEALTH AND WELLNESS PLANS

One of the most beneficial aspects of wearables is when doctors see actionable data they can use to improve patient outcomes along the continuum of care. For example, if physicians can quickly identify trends or changes in patients’ health before appointments, they can be better prepared to address patient concerns, problems or successes.

The key is to know which data is relevant for each patient. Physicians can then guide patients on which data to gather and set guidelines based on each individual’s situation. Many people set a personal goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. But that’s not ideal for everyone. For people recovering from surgery, maybe 1,000 is the target. For patients healing from a stress fracture in the legs, reducing their average number of steps per day may be best.

Doctors who can help patients optimize wearables for their individual needs can help improve patient outcomes.

5. DELIVER BETTER PATIENT EXPERIENCES

Newsflash to providers—many of your customers already own and strap on a wearable device each day. Physicians who integrate wearables into their plan of care demonstrate that they’re embracing a state-of-the-art approach to patients.

A survey by Black Book Market Research found that 92% of healthcare consumers said improving the customer experience should be a top strategic priority for medical providers over the next 12 months. That number increased from 71% the previous year. Understanding wearables, offering advice on the devices to patients and optimizing the data are ways to improve that experience.

Providers who understand the benefits of particular devices can recommend them to specific patient populations. For example, a common cause of injury for seniors is falling. Wearing an accelerometer or another device with motion sensors can predict a person’s risk of falling. Doctors who recommend these products can help prevent patient injuries.

GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Wearables are becoming increasingly popular, and that trend is expected to continue. Physicians who are knowledgeable in the role wearables can play in improving care, from recovering after surgery to lowering blood pressure to monitoring the heart to providing other benefits, are positioned to help patients improve their healthcare routines while enhancing patient loyalty.

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