Digital

Leveraging technology to better monitor and treat patients

Kelly Santomas, MS, RN, is senior director of Partners Connected Health, part of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health system founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. In this article she looks at the necessity of using technology to better serve patients.

“Innovation” used to mean research breakthroughs, such as a new cancer treatment or a life-saving cardiac procedure. But today, it’s just as likely to be synonymous with digital tools that are driving a dramatic transformation in health and wellness.

For the first time, patients can easily and securely share personal health data with their care team using their iPhone or Android devices. PGHD Connect can totally transform care delivery, including improved management of chronic illness and at-risk patient populations.

Launched in 2017, the PGHD Connect platform allows patients to share personal health data with their care team seamlessly and securely using their own consumer devices, such as blood pressure monitors, activity trackers, blood glucose monitors and weight scales. Using Bluetooth technology, the data is wirelessly transmitted into the patient’s EHR.

So, instead of waiting for patients to come to the office, these Bluetooth-connected monitors can track patients’ chronic conditions, allowing the provider to monitor data without patients having to make repeated trips to the office. Making monitoring more convenient can lead to wider adoption and better outcomes. 

In the case of diabetes, for example, easier monitoring has the potential to reduce amputations, kidney damage and other complications, which costs $327 billion a year, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Additionally, a companion mobile app, launched this past October, makes such monitoring even more accessible. For patients who do not have Bluetooth enabled devices, the new app—which is available as a free download from Google Play and the App Store—allows patients to use their phone to take a photo of their readings and then send the data to their providers. 

From the patient’s perspective, both tools can mean no more little pieces of paper with readings to remember and bring in. For the physician, it can mean keeping a close eye on chronic but stable patients while using the clinical setting to see patients who are sicker.

Patients are surprisingly open to these latest innovations. They might need help setting things up, but once the technology is up and running, they are interested and receptive.

As we rolled out the new platform, my team has found provider adoption to be a bit more challenging. Physicians are already stretched thin and, at first glance, adding another thing to their workflows is reason for hesitation. Many providers might think “If all I have is 15 minutes, and I have to instruct them on how to use this technology, then what am I not going to have time to address during their visit?”

We do know that patients who are actively involved in managing their health are likely to have better outcomes and are less likely to visit the emergency department than those who are less engaged. We also know that providers worry about being factory workers making widgets instead of doctors giving care, which is why we are working hard to ensure users see this new tool as an asset, not a burden.

An example: One of our collaborators had a patient whose blood sugar would spike every evening, but no one could figure out why. The data provided us with a visual road map. The elevated readings caused the provider to ask what the patient was doing at the specific time. As it turned out, the patient was eating popcorn every night while watching a movie. With this information, they were able to figure it out. This shows how we can use data to keep patients from getting sicker.

While redesigning care delivery is still in its infancy, we know it’s here to stay. How can we bring innovative solutions to our providers to help them manage? By 2020, there will be more Americans over age 65 than those under the age of five years old. Clearly, we are going to run out of providers if we don’t leverage technology. We need to move from a one-to-one to a one-to-many care model. Our future health depends on it.

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