"Oh, the places you’ll go, and the things that you’ll do”
~ Dr Seuss
Technology has changed the way we do things. As we find ourselves living in the shadow of COVID-19, the impact of technology has never been more apparent as news media shares the world’s health, telecommuting replaces the office, and education embraces the virtual classroom. Similarly, technology has enhanced the healthcare industry’s ability to monitor and process complicated data for meaningful use. While the number one personal technology of choice remains the cell phone, there’s a growing appreciation for wearable technology.
Wearable technology has come a long way from the step pedometers worn on the waist that required manual documentation of daily steps. Today’s smartwatches have become stylish and smart looking in addition to tracking movement, location, elevation, and health biometrics with a high level of accuracy. When synced with a smartphone and/or computer, the smartwatch can effortlessly track health behaviors and biometric responses. Additionally, it can track daily activities, day to day changes, and week to week trends. No longer a simple time piece, the consumer is accepting this wearable technology as a trustworthy addition to their daily routine, behavior change and health monitoring.
But technology alone is only technology. Technology collects data to work smarter. Healthcare exist on the foundation of data. Additionally, healthcare has been chided for its medical decisions that may be outcome centered vs patient centric. As personal technology advances, could “wearable” technology — a $23+ billion industry — become a useful tool for the healthcare professional?
Does the wearer understand how to optimize the technology? Are healthcare professionals ready to include wearable technology as part of the assessment and plan of care? If yes, how do they prepare for it? Fortunately, embracing wearable technology does not require becoming a technology expert. How might that work? Consider the following healthcare provider (HCP) and person with diabetes (PWD) interaction:
HCP: Nice watch! Is it a smartwatch?
PWD: Thanks! Yes, it is.
HCP: What does it do?
PWD: It keeps up with my exercise . . . I use it as a motivation to exercise . . . I have this minimum number of steps I try to achieve . . . it helps me keeps my blood sugar down and has helped me lose weight.
HCP: That’s pretty good. I notice you have lost some weight and your blood pressure has come down also. So you think it’s your smartwatch that made this happen? Did you change anything else?
PWD: Being able to track the numbers at the end of day keeps me moving. It also allows me to track my diet. I never knew “what” I eat could be more important than “how much” but this device plus my cell phone app has taught me a lot. It’s confusing sometimes.
HCP: Do you track other things? or Are there other features you find helpful?
PWD: Yes. I like the way it reminds me to get a minimum amount of activity each hour so I’m not surprised at the end of the day. Also, I track my sleep patterns. I find when I don’t get a good sleep “score” I tend to have higher blood sugar’s the next day.
This interaction is a new engagement opportunity. Whether the HCP understands the algorithms that make the technology work is not critical. The HCP does understand the reason why knowing the data is important. Using this data to enhance engagement and potentially improve outcomes could be a goal setting opportunity. Consider the following:
Example 1: Blood glucose elevations. Blood glucose elevations are clearly important to the PWD since he mentioned them twice. The HCP can explain blood glucose control can sometimes be confusing. The HCP could initiate a referral to a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist to help the PWD understand a more complete picture of glycemic control.
Example 2: Weight loss. HCP can support the PWD's commitment to physical activity for weight loss. The HCP can acknowledge that nutrition can also be very confusing. This is another opportunity to refer the PWD for additional support.
Example 3: Ongoing support. HCP approval and encouragement in addition to suggesting support groups and/or online resources could promote PWD's commitment to lifestyle improvements. (Note: ongoing support is a requirement for diabetes accredited or recognized programs)
Getting a PWD to make behavioral changes is more than just getting the message right. It’s listening to what’s important, what behavior change method(s) the PWD has self-selected, and keep them heading in a positive direction. It may not be as simple as business-as-usual but it may be more fun — especially for the PWD as they begin to truly feel like part of their healthcare team.
Wearable technology will only become more advanced. For wearable technology to become fully optimized will require integration with human touch. The healthcare professional could be an ideal integration while elevating engagement. The PWD's confirmation of how a wearable technology meets perceived interests or needs could be in their plan of care.
Technology will continue to advance and collect data; technology without the human touch is only data. The human touch can make data significant and meaningful. The integration of technology and medical touch could create positive outcomes for the consumer. Today’s healthcare providers are encouraged to participate in this opportunity to provide individualized guidance and insight based on consumer wearable technology data.