Trends | August 2016 Hearing Review

Part 1: How digital health is revolutionizing healthcare

Digital health isn’t a fad and the future of patient-generated data is coming much faster than ever before. As the hearing healthcare industry grows and as patients become more sophisticated in the use of technology, we need to look to the digital future of hearing healthcare as an opportunity to collect valuable information, use those insights to benefit patient care, and offer customizable solutions that create positive patient experiences.

Rapid advances in mobile and cloud technology, wearable sensors, and data analytics, combined with nearly universal access to cellular services, are shifting the way healthcare is both delivered and received. Until recently, patients have played a mostly passive role in their own care, relying on office checkups to provide a complete overview of their overall health. This means that healthcare practitioners have had to depend on patient memory to assess what is taking place between checkups, and administer a series of tests to find a cause for any medical abnormalities.

Although still effective, this process can be problematic for three reasons:

1) It’s only a snapshot of a patient’s health;

2) Valuable time is spent tracking down the source of the problem, and

3) Patients are notoriously bad historians.

The Healthcare Practitioner-patient Relationship is Changing

medicineIn the past, remembering specific health information and verbalizing it to their healthcare practitioner was a patient’s primary way to document their wellbeing.

However, as health apps and wearable technology become increasingly popular and go beyond simple gadgets to being bona fide medical-grade wearables, the ability for patients to engage in their healthcare provision empowers them to become active participants.

New patient-generated data shifts what once was an infrequent, unreliable reporting system to an individualized, in-the-moment approach. Sensors and manually entered data by the patient allow these new technologies to collect and store real-time events, not only helping patients to better understand their personal wellbeing, but also arming practitioners with a more complete patient profile and the ability to be proactive in their care. Practitioners can now monitor the effectiveness of treatments, respond to alerts, follow-up and offer advice—often without the patient having to physically go into their office.

For example, in the past, electrocardiograms (ECG) could only be administered by a physician in a clinical setting, providing a snapshot of the patient’s cardiac responses for that one moment in time, in a situation that does not reflect their real life. Now, there are smartphone apps that let the patient take a single-lead ECG and transmit that information to their physician if they’re having issues. Moreover, the data can be integrated into some electronic health records and the patient can input personal notes for things like time of day or an activity that could have accounted for the issue, such as caffeine or stress-induced spikes. Although this type of reporting is not a replacement for an in-depth assessment and a full 12-lead ECG, it is being used to monitor things like atrial fibrillation while the patient is not in the office.

These kinds of healthcare innovations open doors to data and information that those in the healthcare industry have never had before. The practitioner-patient relationship becomes less about gathering data and more about interpreting what the patient-generated data means for the care of that individual, in the context of their life.

Digital Healthcare Is Now Expected

It’s no secret that the use of smart technologies is on the rise. According to a 2015 survey,1 68% of American adults owned a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011. What’s more is that the older demographic—and currently the highest number of healthcare users—is actively engaged with smart technology. In fact, 58% of 50-64 year olds and 30% of 65+ year olds owned a smartphone in 2015.

This means that, as the use of other (now outdated) mobile technologies declines and the proliferation of smart technology increases, users have come to expect the ability to access information anytime, and from anywhere. The truth is that the days of the patient simply accepting that the practitioner knows best are coming to a close. Now, patients are looking to access to their own data and expect digital interactions with their healthcare provider. A 2014 FICO survey2 revealed that 80% of people would like the option to use their smartphones to interact with healthcare providers. These same researchers also found that 76% of people worldwide would like a digital reminder for their medical appointments, and 69% would like to be able to arrange appointments and receive prompts to take their medication.

To meet these demands, the healthcare industry has had to adapt to the digital boom, ultimately changing the healthcare practitioner-patient relationship. Now, electronic medical records, health apps, and wearable technology have made it easier for both patients and practitioners to monitor and respond to patient-generated data. In fact, the use of health apps has doubled in the past 2 years, shifting from 16% in 2014 to 33% in 2016 among consumers who use technology to manage their health, and 3 out of 4 patients followed their doctor’s recommendation to wear a health app.3 What’s more, and contrary to popular belief, age isn’t a deterrent for shifting to digital healthcare. In fact, 38% of users aged 65-74 are most likely to use their electronic health records to review their health information.

Challenges to Digital Disruption

Of course, disruption does not occur without challenges. While patient-generated data is being leveraged in many areas of healthcare today, it is still in the relatively early stages. A common concern is that patient-generated data is a fleeting trend and that the use of digital technology will eventually fall off. However, in a recent interview,4 Fitbit CEO James Park addressed this concern explaining that “we noted that out of 18 million new registered device users added in 2015, 72% were still active users at year end.” The truth is that as technology continues to advance, becomes cheaper, faster and much more accessible to a broader range of patients and providers, it naturally becomes woven into the everyday fabric of our lives.

Another fear is that patient-generated data will replace traditional examinations and medical expertise, ultimately diminishing the role of the healthcare provider. In reality, the ability to collect real-time data supplements the expertise doctors have, shifting where they focus their efforts, not replacing their medical knowledge. Access to data and the ability to customize the patient experience is a differentiator, not a substitute, for the healthcare provider.

Why the Hearing Healthcare Industry Should Take Notice

The truth is that, as data becomes more readily available and patient acceptance increases, early adopters will blaze the trail in the future of patient care—including the hearing healthcare industry.5

Digital health isn’t a fad and the future of patient-generated data is coming much faster than ever before. As the hearing healthcare industry grows and patients become more sophisticated in the use of technology, we need to look to the digital future of hearing healthcare as an opportunity to collect valuable information, use those insights to benefit patient care, and offer customizable solutions that create positive patient experiences.

Part 2 of this 3-part series will explore how the collection of real-time data in the hearing healthcare industry is giving hearing healthcare professionals unprecedented insights into their patients’ listening lifestyles and experiences—resulting in a personalized fitting process and increased patient engagement.

References

  1. Anderson M. Technology device ownership: 2015. Pew Research Center, October 29, 2015. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technology-device-ownership-2015

  2. FICO. FICO global survey: 80% of smartphone users interested in health care alerts. June 18, 2014. Available at: http://www.fico.com/en/newsroom/fico-global-survey-80-of–smartphone-users-interested-in-health-care-alerts-06-18-2014

  3. Accenture Consulting. Patients want a heavy dose of digital. 2016. Available at: https://www.accenture.com/t20160226T105643__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-6/Accenture-Patients-Want-A-Heavy-Dose-of-Digital-Infographic.pdf%20-%20zoom=50

  4. Comstock J. Fitbit CEO hints at expanding healthcare strategy, FDA-cleared devices. Mobi Health News. May 5, 2016. Available at: http://mobihealthnews.com/content/fitbit-ceo-hints-expanding-healthcare-strategy-fda-cleared-devices

  5. Hayes D, McIntyre C. Improved insights enable a better patient experience. June 6, 2016. Available at: http://www.audiologyonline.com/interviews/improved-insights-enable-better-patient-17352

Chris McIntyre

Chris McIntyre

Chris McIntyre is Senior Product Manager of Software and Apps at Unitron, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His team works closely with Unitron’s audiology and R&D teams to deliver software solutions for hearing care professionals and their patients. Prior to joining Unitron, his career included clinical roles in orthopedics as well as extensive experience designing and delivering diagnostic software for radiology and cardiology departments.

Correspondence can be addressed to Hearing Review or Chris McIntyre at: chris.mcIntyre@unitron.com

Original citation for this article: McIntyre C. Clinical Benefits of Patient-generated Health Data. Hearing Review. 2016;23(8):18.