Every provider knows that patients share only part of their health history, and the questions providers ask elicit just some of the information needed to improve their clinical care. That's because what patients do to affect their health happens outside the clinical setting, and concerns information patients aren't accustomed to sharing, such as how much they eat, the amount of sleep they get and how often they exercise.
Personal health technology can improve outcomes
These observations of daily living are often forgotten, or inaccurately reported, during the typical healthcare encounter, but they can provide tangible, real-time feedback on how patients are faring. Recording and sharing these observations can illuminate significant health behavior patterns that might be impossible to discern otherwise—but that investigation can be a lengthy process.
Enter technology. As mobile technology becomes more readily available, patients have the opportunity to track their day-to-day health activities as never before. Whether through a smartphone, tablet or wearable sensor, patients can self-track the finely grained detail that helps complete their health picture, with minimal expense and relative ease.
The concept has already proven valuable. Over the past seven years, clinician-led teams supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have discovered that health information tracked on mobile devices helps patients and healthcare providers improve health behaviors and efficiently manage and treat illnesses. They found that when patients tracked personal health data and shared it with their providers, they reduced their incidence of asthma attacks, experienced less pain and improved their medication management.
Digital technologies also help clarify patients' health circumstances and streamline the clinical workflow. One such approach is the RWJF's BreathEasy project, which enables asthma patients to enter their observations into a smartphone app, then send that data to a Web-based dashboard at the clinician's office. The app turns data into graphs, providing a comprehensive view of the patient's overall health status, enabling nurses to triage and refine data for the physician before the patient's office visit.
Tapping into new kinds of health information doesn't have to overwhelm the system. Instead, it can adapt to that system by providing a place for the wealth of patient knowledge and insight to enter the medical conversation. The goal for everyone is better care, better health outcomes and an overall wiser use of time.
Patricia Flatley Brennan is national director of Project HealthDesign, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio, working to spark innovation in personal health technology.
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