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How Health Coaches Improve Wearable Tech Use in Chronic Care

Wearable technology and the PGHD that comes with it are most useful when paired with health coach interventions, a HIMSS report noted.

health coach wearables

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Integrating health coaches into chronic care management plans will increase the value of wearable technology and patient-generated health data (PGHD), according to a recent HIMSS report.

The report, which featured results from a survey of about 100 health IT decision-makers, outlined how healthcare professionals are using wearable technology as a part of their chronic disease management strategies. Specifically, the report noted how these tools are becoming more feasible elements of disease management plans.

When patient wearables first presented on the market, providers were dubious of their benefits, the report noted. Providers did not know what they would do with the PGHD that would inevitably stem from wearable use, how they would be compensated for using that data, and if PGHD would create a data influx that could hamper provider workflows.

But as data analytics tools have become more sophisticated, providers understand the benefits PGHD can have on patient care.

“Some myths around PGHD have been debunked while healthy skepticism and improved technology continue to push the conversation forward,” the report authors stated. “As a result, according to one recent survey, hospitals and health systems are no longer questioning the value – or desire – for PGHD. In fact, they are demanding it.”

READ MORE: Top 4 Patient Motivation Techniques for Health Improvement

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they need more patient data to make better healthcare decisions, and 72 percent said they specifically need more patient-generated health data, the HIMSS survey found.

“It’s encouraging news,” said John Sharpe, Senior Manager of the Personal Connected Health Alliance at HIMSS. “We are learning to trust the data. Furthermore, we’re learning how to make actual wearables and activity monitors more effective tools in both preventing disease and managing chronic disease.”

In fact, 90 percent of those integrating wearable technology into patient care see it as a crucial part of chronic disease management.

This is because common chronic illnesses, such as hypertension or diabetes, require significant patient behavior change. Patients usually need to change their diets, exercise habits, and even stress management habits to manage the symptoms of their illnesses.

These lifestyle alterations are largely outside of clinical control and have long posed a problem in most providers’ patient engagement strategies. How can providers motivate a patient to overhaul their lifestyles?

READ MORE: Why Patient Behavior Change Is Key for Chronic Disease Management

Wearables have presented an opportunity in this area because they allow providers to consistently monitor patient progress and nudge the patient when the patient could make a healthier choice.

These timely patient touches amount to some of the top reasons for integrating wearables into patient care. Providers value the timely interventions, immediate feedback, and patient empowerment wearables bring to patient care.

It’s that timely monitoring that many healthcare experts believe motivates patient behavior change.

“When patients believe their doctor or their nurse is looking at their data, they don’t eat the cake, they take a walk rather than sit in front of the TV – they change their behaviors because they think someone is watching,” HIMSS senior director for Health Information Systems Rob Havasy said in the report.

Clinicians can also use PGHD for disease prevention, the report authors noted. Studies have shown that health coaching through a wearable device can lower disease risk by 58 percent. For patients over age 60, wearable technologies reduced risk by 70 percent.

READ MORE: How mHealth Technology Supports Patient Engagement Strategies

However, there are some feasibility issues with regard to wearables and PGHD, the report noted. Survey respondents said technology costs to payers, providers, and patients; data integration; and data overload are still barriers to fully adopting PGHD in patient care.

Major technology companies have been providing solutions to interoperability issues, the report pointed out.

Additionally, organizations are deploying health coaches to make these tools more seamless in patient care. Nearly half of all organizations included in the HIMSS survey said they use health coaches for chronic disease management, which makes it easier for patients to integrate wearable tools into their self-management strategies and eases the burden on providers.

“Health coaches can be seen as an extension of care; practitioners who facilitate patient treatment and education on behalf of physicians,” the report authors wrote. “This is especially true today, when providers are pressed for time.”

The next step is driving personalization with these technologies, Havasy said. This presents another opportunity for health coaches, whose interpersonal skills are better at driving behavior change than often impersonal technologies.

“Driving long-term behavior change is difficult, but health coaches as individuals can do what machines can’t yet do,” Havasy explained. “They can intuitively understand what matters to a particular individual and build a coaching program around it.”

This includes uncovering the lifestyle factors that will truly motivate a patient, Havasy said. For example, a provider may want the patient to achieve a certain level of health, but the patient may only care about being well enough to go to a baseball game come summertime.

A wearable is unable to tap into that deeper patient motivation, Havasy said, but a health coach can.

Although many healthcare professionals recognize the benefits PGHD can have on patient care, few have begun integrating it into their practices, the HIMSS report revealed. This is because providers still need to know how to make this data work for their patients, Havasy suggested.

As organizations continue to deploy wearables and PGHD alongside the use of health coaches, these tools may become more valuable, Havasy said.

“Wearables and PGHD are not just able reminders,” he concluded. “It’s more than just reminding patients to check their blood sugar and take their insulin. There’s complex psychology at work.”

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