Technology can make you healthier! Whether it's being used for closer patient monitoring, supporting lifestyle changes or providing improved access to providers, there are a number of ways that technology is being used to reinforce traditional healthcare and improve outcomes.
Not too long ago, healthcare primarily consisted of doctor visits and prescriptions. The ’80’s and ’90’s were an age of explosive pharmaceutical growth, with "magic pills" for different conditions everywhere you turned. You went to the doctor, were given a prescription and then scheduled a follow up visit every few months. Perhaps your doctor recommended lifestyle changes, such as take regular walks or eat more fruits and veggies, but it was a hard sell in comparison to taking a “magic pill.”
That era is over.
The most common chronic conditions in America today (e.g., diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.) are now epidemics, sparking widespread recognition that drug therapy alone is not enough. Additionally, face-time with patients is shrinking, and the months between visits make it challenging for physicians to help patients implement significant lifestyle changes.
However, new technologies are helping to bridge this gap. Physicians can now engage their patients in new ways to empower change. Some of these key change-makers include:
Online Engagement Drives Patient Behavioral Modification, Compliance and Motivation
You’re likely aware of the many apps and websites widely used today for diet and exercise. Did you also know that Ottawa Hospital has developed a pain management app that allows patients to indicate the location and intensity of their pain on their iPads? Patients touch the part of the body where they are experiencing pain on the iPad and then choose a color from white to red to indicate the level of pain.
There's also a texting program called txt4Health that is being piloted for Type 2 diabetes prevention. Participants complete a simple questionnaire via text message, and are then sent weekly text messages based on their responses to help them manage their health and connect them to local resources.
Finally, several pharmaceutical brands, such as Alli (weight loss) and Chantrix (smoking cessation) provide online educational tools for patients to complement and enhance the results of their medication.
These simple, portable tools help provide personalized health access to patients whenever and wherever they need it.
Telehealth Means Constant Connectivity
Telehealth, defined as delivering remote healthcare services using telecommunications technology, improves care by allowing more frequent contact between the patient and healthcare provider. This method of increased contact has exploded in recent years and is gaining widespread acceptance. Telehealth is being used by physical therapists, social workers, and dietitians to improve healthcare access among those living in remote areas, as well as with elderly patients who cannot travel easily.
A recent study at the University of Texas Medical Branch proves that the use of technology to deliver healthcare is an effective way of overcoming certain barriers to care, including improved access to specialists; increased patient satisfaction; better clinical outcomes; a reduction in emergency room visits; and, not surprisingly, overall healthcare cost savings.
Mobile Symptom Monitoring Identifies Problems Earlier
Physicians have been monitoring patient EKG information remotely for years. But the use of sensor technology is now available to track heart, brain and muscle function – all through mobile phones. A recent study in the UK, called the Whole System Demonstrator Program, home-monitored more than 6,200 patients with diabetes, heart failure or COPD over the course of three years. Mortality rates were reduced by 45%, emergency visits by 15%, and elective admissions by 14%. This kind of monitoring can alert physicians to changes in patient status before their next regularly scheduled visit, and possibly prevent serious adverse events.
While these tools have tremendous implications for improved patient care across the board, they are also being introduced into the world of clinical development. We are working on a long-term cardiovascular outcomes trial that incorporates online video counseling and physical training to support patients in their efforts to improve their health. This is a unique component to incorporate into a clinical trial, and may support how the drug is eventually marketed.
By empowering patients with online tools, enabling more frequent contact through telehealth and monitoring symptoms remotely, physicians and patients are entering into a new paradigm of engagement. Your next prescription may read more like: "Take two tablets, download this app, I'll read your glucose levels next week and text you with the results." Who knew that being healthy could be so much fun? Now, please pass the carrots...