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The Connected Patient

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Wearable technology and the resultant increase in the potential data they can provide continues to spread and evolve. During the holiday season I saw a large increase in the advertising of virtual reality headsets, especially during the Super Bowl. Several commercials during the big game showed grandparents engaging with a virtual reality headset – some with their family around them watching. They were all having very unique and powerful experiences. It was a poignant reminder to me about the far reaching potential of new technology – not only for entertainment, as the commercials were claiming, but for how we could use this type of technology with health care in the future.

An August 2016 article on CNET by Sarah Tew talked about that very thing. She talked about a pair of wireless earbuds, created by Jabra an intelligent sound solution manufacturer. The earbuds can interface with a HIPAA compliant software and provide health data about a patient's fitness level. The earbuds were provided to certain patients (along with a fitness plan) with a primary focus to use the information to treat obesity, cancer and diabetes. The data provided was shared with the physician and the patient at the same time – everyone had the same data at the same time to help make informed decisions going forward! Wearable devices continue to provide an increasingly strong potential for data collection and are evolving from simple watches to ear buds, and in some rarer instances, some devices that are implanted beneath the skin. The potential uses for wearables seems to only be limited by our imagination.

Physicians will need to continue to explore ways to engage patients and help them become an integral part of their own health. As patients feel more engaged and responsible for themselves, in tandem with an ability to actively view and manage "real time" data, they could become more motivated to keep performing activities that move them toward or continue to support a healthy lifestyle.

Patient engagement opportunities also come in a wide variety of opportunities that physicians may want to pay attention to. An online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Salesforce in June 2016 among 2,025 adults aged 18 and older produced a number of interesting facts regarding patient's preferences for virtual engagements and opportunities to manage their own health. Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they would select a physician that offered a mobile app that would allow them to make appointments, see bills, etc. potentially identifying a strong motivation for a physician office to invest in an opportunity that could bring more business, while allowing greater flexibility for patients (and thereby potentially reducing overall workload for the office). On top of the mobile app, 62 percent said they strongly or somewhat agree that they would be open to virtual care treatments such as a video conference call for non-urgent matters.

As mentioned above, the ability to use data from a wearable device could be invaluable for both the physician and patient. In fact, 62 percent of respondents said that they would select a physician who used data from their wearable devices to help them manage their health outcomes. And 67 percent of millennials said that they would be very or somewhat likely to use a wearable tracking device given to them by their insurance company in exchange for better health insurance rates. Perhaps that approach may be a bit "big brother-ish" with current societal opinions of insurance companies, but the potential implications for driving patient self-care are high.

Perhaps with additional incentives and an increasingly wider array of potential wearable technology choices provided by insurance carriers or just made available to the public, the more people and patients will be motivated to take advantage of the benefits of wearable tech as it relates to self-care. The next few years will be exciting indeed!

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