Why it’s so important to use smart devices to improve patient care

Accepting and using device-generated data can provide clinicians with key insight into patients’ symptoms after an office visit.

When I imagine the future of healthcare, I envision a world where clinicians feel confident prescribing smart devices to monitor a variety of health indicators, and patients feel equally confident using these devices. This vision is rooted in both professional experience and personal encounters, underscoring the enormous potential of technology to transform patient care.

Today, a variety of smart devices offer invaluable information that can significantly help treat medical conditions. For example, people with heart disease such as atrial fibrillation can use smart watches to monitor their heart rate and rhythm at home between visits. Similarly, smart blood pressure monitors can help treat high blood pressure, smart scales can track fluid retention in patients with congestive heart failure, and remote PT/INR monitors make it easier to conduct at-home testing for people taking warfarin for atrial fibrillation.

Traditional 12-lead ECGs record just 10 seconds of data, often missing critical events that occur outside the doctor’s office. In turn, the smartwatch constantly monitors heart rate and cadence, potentially catching problems that arise at home. How many health problems could be detected and treated if more doctors encouraged patients to use available technologies?

The widespread use of smart devices could make it possible to treat some conditions at home, reducing the need for frequent office visits. This change will not only increase patient convenience, but will also reduce the burden on healthcare facilities.

A personal journey

Let me share a personal anecdote that illustrates the profound impact technology has had on healthcare. Over six years ago, I started experiencing heart palpitations, which prompted me to monitor my heart rate with a smartwatch and consult my primary care physician. Despite my efforts to present the smartwatch data, clinicians dismissed it as unreliable.

Six years later, my heart rate problems persisted and I was almost put on the wrong medications due to the cardiologist’s reluctance to trust the smartwatch data. Fortunately, my insistence on further testing confirmed the smartwatch’s effectiveness.

This experience taught me how critical it is to incorporate smart technologies into routine care. Patients suffering from conditions such as “white coat syndrome,” which causes elevated blood pressure and heart rate during medical visits, could benefit greatly from home monitoring. For people who experience anxiety and discomfort during clinical trials, home devices provide a more accurate reflection of their health status.

My sister’s journey was even more difficult. Despite noticing a correlation between her heart symptoms and the smartwatch’s metrics, her cardiologist dismissed the data. This shows how patient-generated data is often underestimated. How much critical information is being missed that could help make sense of it 99% of the time when patients are not in the doctor’s office?

There is a wealth of data from these devices that, when integrated with electronic health records (EHRs), could populate dashboards with actionable metrics for clinical decision-making. Whether the meeting is in six days or six months, a person’s biological and social environment can change dramatically, and continuous visibility can improve the identification of trends and enable quick interventions.

The need for universal adoption

To realize this vision, we must increase the use of these technologies among patients and physicians. These efforts include establishing free or low-cost programs to provide devices to patients in need and integrating these technologies with EHR systems and business intelligence platforms to provide personalized, patient-centered care. Education is the key; both patients and doctors need to be trained to use and trust these devices, just as diabetics regulate their blood glucose levels at home.

Transformation isn’t just about technology; it’s about building a trusting partnership between patients and healthcare providers. Encouraging patients to take an active role in their care, supported by reliable technology, can lead to better health outcomes and a more efficient health care system.

The future of healthcare lies in the integration of smart technologies, patient-generated data and personalized care. By leveraging these advances, we can improve patient experiences, improve health outcomes, and create a more impactful health care system. However, this requires joint efforts of all stakeholders.

My personal journey and my sister’s struggles are just two of the millions of people who share how important it is to trust patients who want to be more engaged and, with the right technology, can be an asset to their own care. Together we can create a future where smart devices and personalized care are the norm, ensuring better health and well-being for all.

Justin Austin, FACHDM, is a Fellow of the American College of Health Data Management.