Imagine this: Mom wears her Fitbit or her Gearfit and regularly emails her doctor about her daily steps. Dad checks his blood pressure nightly, at home, and sends a text to his clinician about the results. The nanny Skypes with the pediatrician’s nurse to take a look at baby boy’s one pink eye. Does he need to come in? No? An eye drop script is already at the pharmacy? Great. Meanwhile, if Dad’s blood pressure does something odd over the course of a week or two, the nurse gets in contact and makes an appointment, which syncs to everyone’s cell phone calendars. At the same time Mom’s Gearfit reminds her to get up and walk, which reduces her stress, which might ultimately help with breast cancer risk.
Connected health could possibly benefit everyone, so what would it take to get there?
“We need to break down this barrier that tech is only for a certain type of person,” says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, the vice president of connected health with Partners Healthcare and a boardmember with the Personal Connected Health Alliance, or PCAA, an organization that in in part is helping to push companies to work together so that all their wearable devices talk to each other, and talk to doctor’s offices.
The doctors are key
A recent Ipsos survey has found that with the proliferation of technology and innovations, plus a rise in telehealth and an aging population, doctors are more ready than ever to embrace new technologies for health maintenance. However, only 21% of U.S. doctors surveyed by Ipsos have adopted the use of connected health devices for their patients in 2016 while 69% of adults say they would use such a device if a doctor recommended it.
“The technology is there and the thinking is there,” says Reena Sangar, the head of digital and connected health for Ipsos. “The issue is purely human. Healthcare is in need of disruption.”
Sangar points to China and the U.K. as an example of regions that have found ways to use telemedicine and other aspects of connected health for the betterment of the population. In China, she says, they have 750,000 medical consultations a week via a secure app or something like a Skype call. Some 28% of doctors used a connected health device to communicate with patients. Doctors can prescribe medicines from their phones, and if they need a patient to come in for physical evaluation, it’s easier to see – after the Skype call – who truly needs additional medical help.
“Every other industry now has some integration of technology that makes it easier for you to consume that service without direct interaction with a person,” says Kvedar. “That’s our one trick pony and we have to get beyond that.”
Progress in the U.S.
There is some movement in the U.S.
For example Dana Farber Cancer Institute launched a two-year randomized study in 2016, using Fitbit devices to investigate the impact of weight loss on breast cancer recurrence. Fitbit, according to its manufacturer, is the most used wearable when it comes to clinical trials.
“More than 6.8M Fitbit users, including employees at more than 70 of the Fortune 500, have connected their data into population health and health management platforms,” said a company spokesperson.
Those kinds of wearables are a game changer, says Roberta Yancey, of Memphis, who is a breast cancer survivor. “I have three fitness bands,” says Yancey, who has been cancer free for four years now and has also walked her way down to a 20 pound weight loss. “My doctor recommended it and now my children have purchased me every band on the market. I like that I am reminded to get up and move. And that I can track everything from the quality of my sleep to my heart rate and talk to my doctor about all of it.”
And that’s exactly how it is supposed to work, says Kvedar.
“If you are motivated at all to learn about your behavior and to change your behavior, feedback like Fitbit will help you enormously,” he says. “That fundamental principal about wearables is very sound and works for some people.”