The world of wearables and virtual care might be home to one of the most challenging mysteries in healthcare. People love their digital tools, and they’re deeply interested in learning more about wearables and their potential benefits. At the same time, though, they’re not using them effectively, largely because healthcare has not fully taken advantage of patients’ high level of interest in this new technology.

A Receptive Patient Population

A recent survey released by Salesforce highlights not only how wide the disconnect between excitement around wearables and their actual use is, but also sheds light on massive opportunities for improved connections and outcomes for both patients and providers.

Patients are more open to a new world of mobile and virtual care than many providers likely realize — a full 62 percent of adults with insurance and a primary care provider surveyed indicated that they’d be interested in virtual care treatments, including video conferencing for non-urgent situations. Additionally, 78 percent want their doctors to have access to data from their devices, and 61 percent of respondents who had been hospitalized or had had a family member hospitalized in the last two years felt that there was room for improvement in communication with doctors and care teams during the post-discharge process.

Understanding Patient Behavior

While many providers struggle with patient populations who aren’t responding to at-home care instructions or post-discharge orders, findings like this are key to an important insight — patients are ready to make a change. The solution might simply be that healthcare as a whole needs to approach them in ways that are familiar and convenient.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. After all, we’re all patients ourselves, and it takes little more than a quick glimpse into our daily lives to see how seamlessly wearables and mobile technology are integrated into so much of what we do. This means that the onus to evolve is on healthcare to embrace an enthusiastic and tech-savvy patient population.

This observation hasn’t escaped government officials or industry innovators, as evidenced by the slew of new reimbursement models, regulations, advancements in telemedicine and wearable devices that we’ve seen explode onto the healthcare scene in the past few years. But the question remains — is all this innovation and progress rooted in patient behavior? Are we paying attention to the needs, habits and goals of the very people whose lives we’re trying to change? Additional results from the survey suggest that we’re not.

  • 62 percent of patients surveyed still rely on their doctors to manage their data, while almost 30 percent keep medical records in a home-based, physical storage solution (such as a folder or shoebox)

  • Another 78 percent of health-insured patients who own wearables expressed a desire to give their doctors access to health data to help facilitate up-to-date views of their health, identify and diagnose conditions before they become serious or terminal, and receive more specialized care

The key takeaway? Patients trust their doctors and want to give them more access to their lives and health via technology.

A Moving Target

Perhaps the most challenging part of meeting that desire is the fact that patients mostly view wearables as an aid in lifestyle improvement instead of disease management. The task of helping patients understand that wearables are about much more than weight loss will fall squarely on the shoulders of providers.

Patients have traditionally shown a preference for lifestyle apps including fitness, nutrition and heart rate aids, and have been much slower to adopt disease management tools, even as chronic disease remains a burden on healthcare as a whole. Encouraging the use of a broader range of wearables, digital tools and apps will be a challenge for any provider.

The key is to start where patients are. Many patients are using wearables, but aren’t using them effectively. Since patients trust their doctors, many would likely welcome recommendations as well as tips on usage from physicians informed about both their health goals and their options in wearables. Physicians and the healthcare industry of the future should not only be educated on health, but also on the technology that patients love so much.

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