In the past, patients managed their health through periodic visits to providers — including routine physical exams, appointments to address specific issues and visits to specialists when warranted. It was relatively common between those appointments to cease communication with providers once lab results and follow-ups had been shared. Doctors and nurses could access patient records, of course, but interactions were primarily centered on face-to-face appointments.
It’s fair to say there was plenty of room for disconnect within this model. Healthcare professionals relied primarily on what patients reported to them during these appointments — which could be few and far between, especially for underserved populations. Thus, they often had to make decisions without a view of the big picture.
Thanks to advances in technology and a push for value-based care, this approach is changing. Connected health hinges on utilizing technology to improve communication between healthcare stakeholders, like clinicians and their patients. Connected health reimagines the delivery of healthcare as a constant conversation rather than something that occurs periodically within the confines of an exam room.
Let’s dive deeper into the world of connected health and how it’s redefining healthcare as we know it.
Examples of Connected Health in Action
One major function of connected health is using technology to collect data pertaining to patient health — which professionals can then analyze and utilize in decision-making. The goal is to provide a more complete picture of day-to-day health so as to improve patient outcomes, effectively manage chronic conditions and reduce costs for stakeholders.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is facilitating this connection through connected devices.
Here are just a few examples from Econsultancy:
- A clinical trial of patients with head and neck cancer used weight scales and blood pressure cuffs with Bluetooth capabilities — plus an app to track symptoms — to send automatic updates to their care providers each weekday. Those who utilized connected health in this way experienced a decrease in symptom severity, likely because their physicians could address symptoms faster.
- Diabetes patients can use a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to monitor blood sugar levels at regular intervals, then send those readings to an app. Patients, caregivers and providers can monitor progress and detect important trends.
- Patients with conditions like hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes have been able to ingest pills that send signals to a sensor through an opt-in program. This helps patients verify they’ve taken their medication and gives them information to share with their doctors — who can then decide how to proceed.
Although these examples represent just a fraction of what connected health can do for patients and providers, they do illustrate the value of collecting and analyzing data over time for formulating an informed care plan. Using artificial intelligence in healthcare in the form of advanced data analytics, clinicians can pull patterns and anomalies from within stored data, then utilize these key insights in decision-making. So, having more consistent data is definitely an advantage in this sense.
Challenges Associated with Connected Health
Of course, like any emerging approaches in healthcare centered around technology, there are challenges to address as well. Healthcare providers need secure, fast networks capable of handling the influx of data. This may require hospitals and practices to re-evaluate their network architecture, ramping up wireless access, cloud technology, data processing and analytics software.
Patients may be wary of this technology at first, just as many were wary about electronic health records — never a concern to take lightly in our era of frequent data breaches and cyberattacks.
Connected health is not something that’ll happen overnight; rather, it’s something to work toward as technology advances and regulations catch up with potential. But the more data decision-makers have to analyze for insights, the better choices they can make regarding patient care.