The idea of patient engagement is hardly new. But, if you were to define patient engagement in your own practice, what would you discover? Is it simply a buzz phrase? (Yeah; that’s a real thing). Or, is there more depth to your definition? According to this HIMSS study, “Even without universal agreement on ‘one’ definition of patient engagement, two truths are emerging: a patient’s greater engagement in healthcare contributes to improved health outcomes, and information technologies can support engagement.” Regardless of the definition, one thing most experts can agree on is the importance of technology with respect to patient engagement. So, how can rehab therapists capitalize on technology trends—specifically, wearables—to positively influence patient engagement? Great question.

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Use It or Lose It

In March 2015, Harris Poll conducted a study among more than 2,000 US adults to explore the connection between technology and patient engagement. It found that not only were wearables a factor in patient engagement, but also:

  1. “More than one third (37%) of people who use a wearable device/fitness tracker wear it every day.”
  2. “78% of those using wearable devices/fitness trackers more than once a month feel it useful for their doctors to have access to that information.”

The data from this study show that adults across the US are taking advantage of, and investing in, wearable technology. And when your patients are already so invested in their own health that they track their daily habits, they’re likely to track the changes associated with the treatment you—as a healthcare expert—prescribe. That’s especially true if you provide movement goals that patients can easily track with most wearable devices. If you don’t use this data, you’re missing out on an opportunity to engage your patients on a more personal level.

Try, Try, and “Trifecta” Again

Wearable technology is unique; it creates a personal connection to the technology individuals use to monitor and improve their well being. Leveraging this data is super valuable for the following reasons (as adapted from this Huffington Post article):

  1. wearable technology is inherently connected to your patients and their goals;
  2. the technology fosters a sense of community; and
  3. it taps into gamification.

The same article goes on to explain, “By harnessing this trifecta, healthcare leaders have new ways to build engagement and create accurate, far-reaching views of both personal and population health.”

Fill in the Gaps

Due to meaningful use and the increase in EMR and EHR adoption, patient portals are now a standard in patient engagement. But typically, the information exchanged in such portals is very siloed. Patients often engage with these portals simply to obtain or provide information. But, it’s not the best engagement tool. Plus, because it doesn’t include data from other sources, it can’t accurately paint a larger picture of each patient’s overall health. For patients to truly be engaged, they must be active participants in their own care—whether that’s in your practice or at home. Wearables afford providers the opportunity to track patient wellness between visits. And for the patients that use wearables, the devices provide an easy and interactive tool that fills in the gaps between appointments—making it that much easier for those patients to make consistent progress toward their health goals.

Keep it Simple

Beyond containing siloed information, patient portals—even the good ones—are clunky at best. That means patients aren’t likely to become emotionally invested in interacting with you via this medium. The more work it takes for the patient, the less likely he or she will invest in the interaction. Connecting with your patients via wearables removes a lot of barriers to tracking information. Data collection requires little to no input from the patient. The key is to then capture this information and translate it into the patient’s medical record. “While wearable devices vary in sophistication from glorified pedometers to streamlined, data-driven tools for developing the quantified self, they require relatively little input from the user in order to fulfill their promises,” explains this HealthIT Analytics article.

Using wearables to improve patient engagement might not be quite mainstream—yet. But, thanks to wearables, patients are more engaged with their own care, barriers to data collection have been removed, and providers can use the data to bridge the gaps between visits. Does your practice use wearables to boost patient engagement and drive better outcomes? What have been the benefits and drawbacks of using this technology?

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