Divergent CIO

An innovative, transformative, and digital leader experienced in Technology and Executive Leadership

Wearables and Your Health: Where Do They Intersect?

 

Both sides of the health technology debate

Last week, we talked about what to watch for in the way of wearable technology this year. Now we'll discuss how this innovative form of technology can be used to promote a healthier population. We all know that health insurance payers give out incentives to providers for healthy patients; to obtain these incentives, healthcare providers must gather more data, communicate more effectively with their patients, and get them engaged in managing their own health. Why not use technology to automatically gather this data and send it back to the patient's medical record? This method ensures accuracy, efficiency, timeliness, and accountability -- things that can be sorely lacking in today's healthcare management system.

The use of wearables, once a practice driven solely by individuals hopping on the "cool" factor of a FitBit, is now moving into the realm of employer- driven incentive as part of their health and wellness programs. Research has calculated a clear ROI on those who use wearables vs. those who do not. In fact, as part of a study conducted by Springbuk, employees using wearable technology cost $1,000 less on average for a company than those who didn't. 

Undoubtedly, wearables are ideal for tracking and monitoring ongoing health and daily fitness activities. In fact, many companies are already boasting they can achieve this (you may have heard about Apple's recent announcement of a patent for a device that can gather and process electrocardiographic measurements; or perhaps you've heard of wearable pregnancy trackers). Wearable devices, along with mobile health apps, have made health data collection extremely convenient because they integrate with patients’ daily activities and reflect that activity in a quantifiable way. The information that can be collected from patients can play a critical role in how the world of medical advancement will look in the future, with wearables allowing both patients and care givers to measure a variety of indicators and generate feedback on anything from everyday health to specific markers for disease.

This can also aid in medical research; in effect, future generations can benefit from information gathered directly from users today. Healthcare professionals can gain insight into how diseases progress, which treatments are effective, how symptoms improve with certain treatments, etc. The availability and capability of the data that can be collected is mind numbing if you stop to think about it all.

Bridging the Gap

However, just because the technology is here doesn't mean there aren't other issues or obstacles that can stonewall the real-world integration of these technologies to the Electronic Health Record, such as:

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Population Health vs. Public Health: The rising significance of Population Health

 

Amidst growing concern over the health of the population as a whole, a shift is underway to focus less on individual care and more on managing the population's health. First, let's define what population health is. The term population health first emerged in 2003 after David Kindig and Greg Stoddart defined it as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group,” according to HealthcareITNews. Population health refers to the health incomes of a group of individuals, which can be divided not only according to geographic ties such as communities and countries, but also on a smaller scale as well, such as employees, prisoners, disabled people, and ethnic groups.

Population Health Importance

Policy makers are looking to the importance of the population's overall health as it regards to the distribution of health. Let's put it this way: marks for overall health could be very high IF most of the population is healthy, which underscores the fact that a small minority is less healthy in an effort to drastically reduce that gap. Many factors can influence health, from an individual's behavior and genetics to social and physical environments. Medical care systems also play a large role. Population health outcomes rely on the impacts of these factors as a whole.

Now what about public health? This is defined as the efforts of state and local public health departments to treat individual health through prevention of epidemics, the containment of environmental hazards and the encouragement of healthy behaviors. Public health encompasses what we do as a society to assure people in that society can be healthy. However, a gap exists here that does not account for major population health determinants like health care, education, and income, which are traditionally outside the scope of public health authority and responsibility, says Improving Population Health.

Problem is, with the traditional model, the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group, are largely ignored. That's where population health comes in, to focus on the interrelated conditions influencing health populations over the course of lifetimes where systematic variations and patterns are taken into account in order to create policies that improve the well-being of populations over time.

A Fundamental Shift in Healthcare

That being said, there is certainly an overlap of sorts where population health and public health meet in the middle, combining forces of population health activities within general practices, public health activities with the community, and leadership efforts in policy development. The goal of population health is to broaden the responsibility of policy makers to think outside the box rather than simply focus on a single sector or for advocacy groups to single out a specific disease. With the average American living much longer thanks to improved health care and healthy awareness initiatives, it becomes more important than ever to identify population health trends that will ensure the well being of large groups of people across various demographic, social and community ties.

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