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Wearable Devices: A New Frontier in Chronic Disease Management for Healthcare Practitioners

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Wearable Devices: A New Frontier in Chronic Disease Management for Healthcare Practitioners

Healthcare technology is always evolving to help improve the delivery of care for patients. In recent years, there has been a rise in the use of wearable devices in the healthcare space to help monitor patient progress, provide consistent data relative to patient care, and help guide healthy lifestyle changes as part of a personalized treatment plan. These devices have the potential to transform care by increasing patient engagement and providing real-time data to help guide treatment plans for chronic disease management. From continuous glucose monitors to wearables that monitor sleep quality, technology has the power to potentially personalize chronic disease care for conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease more than ever before.  


The Rise of Wearable Health Technology

Wearable health technology has evolved from the days of simple pedometers and heart rate monitors to become much more sophisticated. Devices can now measure heart rate, sleep quality, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, skin temperature, breathing regularity, and even electrocardiograms. They can also provide feedback on recovery rate and heart rate variability, helping individuals wearing the devices to better understand when they need to prioritize rest and recovery. The placement of wearable devices has also expanded, with the ability to wear technology such as chest straps, wrist straps, rings, clothing inserts, and body inserts to collect data.

There has been a growing use and acceptance of wearable devices in healthcare for many reasons. The data obtained from wearables can provide real-time feedback to a patient’s care team, providing an objective way to measure the progress and efficacy of a treatment plan in addition to a patient’s subjective experience. Additionally, data from wearables can often be shared directly with providers and provide a lower cost to obtain data than expensive medical testing in the office that would have to be done more frequently to get the same regularity of information. Wearables also help improve telehealth care in this sense, providing a stream of patient data when a patient may not even be coming into an office setting for testing.

Types of Wearable Devices in Healthcare

There are many different types of wearable devices currently available to gather health metrics, including fitness trackers, smartwatches or rings, biosensor patches, and specialized medical wearables.  

Fitness trackers typically detect steps taken and movement throughout the day, as well as calculate calories burned during workouts, and have been shown to improve physical activity long-term when used regularly.  

Smartwatches and rings (like the Oura ring) often track similar fitness metrics, but also measure heart rate, skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate variability, and sleep quality, providing more data points to look at for patients. These devices can potentially provide more value than a simple fitness tracker for the management of chronic disease, as metrics like sleep quality are often impacted in chronic disease and optimization of these metrics is important for disease management and minimizing symptoms. Understanding heart rate variability (HRV) is also a perk of these types of wearables, as HRV is being increasingly used to help manage symptoms of chronic disease.  

Biosensor patches are wireless, flexible patches that can be applied directly to the skin surface for monitoring health metrics like body temperature, glucose blood pressure, and electrocardiography. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is an example of a popular biosensor patch that has seen an increase in clinical applications in recent years. Additionally, some patches can even track body movement and provide GPS coordinates of the wearer in case of emergencies, which may be particularly beneficial for the elderly patient population. 

Specialized medical wearables, like electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors and wearable blood pressure monitors, can help provide specific feedback that helps a patient’s care team diagnose or monitor their chronic disease and the efficacy of a given treatment plan and may help improve patient outcomes.

Wearable Devices in Chronic Disease Management

Wearable devices provide an opportunity to improve chronic disease management by increasing connectivity between patients and providers and improving patient engagement in managing their condition. Within a given chronic disease (such as diabetes), each patient still may have very different contributing lifestyle factors and physiological functions; integrating data from wearable devices allows treatment approaches to be bio-individualized on a deeper level. The ability to monitor blood sugar, heart rate, respiratory rate, and other metrics can help practitioners intervene sooner rather than later if signs of disease progression or acute issues are occurring.

The opportunity for remote health monitoring in chronic disease through wearable devices may also help to increase care at home and reduce the likelihood of hospital stays. Patients can receive alerts about medication to their apps, helping to improve adherence. Additionally, a recent study suggested that the use of smartphone-based applications related to wearable devices helped positively influence lifestyle factors including eating patterns, exercise, and stress levels, all of which are central components of any plan to manage chronic disease.  

Data Collection and Patient Monitoring

Wearable devices may collect health data in a variety of ways, including skin sensors or tiny needles inserted into interstitial fluid (as in the case of continuous glucose monitors). Devices then sync with a connected app through wireless transmission to a smartphone, allowing for recording and visualization of metrics like heart rate, respiratory rate, glucose levels, or heart rate variability. Health data can then be shared with practitioners and patient care teams, allowing for continuous monitoring not only by the patient but by their provider as well. This real-time collection of health data allows for personalization of a patient’s care plan in a way that can be adjusted as often as needed in between patient visits and also allows for early intervention if changes need to be made based on ongoing data trends.  

The Role of Healthcare Practitioners

While access to wearable health devices continues to increase, healthcare practitioners need to stay on top of the latest technology to help patients interpret their data and be able to use it to provide optimal patient care. The average patient may not understand how their data correlates to their lifestyle habits, their chronic health condition, or treatment interventions, and practitioners can bridge the gap to help patients connect the dots on what actions to take to improve their health and reduce symptoms. This data can bring to light areas where patients may need more targeted education and support, and care teams can respond accordingly. Practitioners can also use the data obtained from wearables to help customize and adjust treatment strategies in real-time, helping their patients to get better results more efficiently.  

Challenges and Ethical Considerations

While wearable devices have great potential to help improve chronic disease management, there are still some challenges to consider when it comes to integrating patient data into the healthcare world. The accuracy and variability of data is a primary concern, and user error is always a consideration. Wearables may be located in different anatomical areas, and patients may not always be able to repeat measurements at the same time of day with the same variables (stress level, movement, foods eaten, etc.). The quality of data is ultimately dependent on patient adherence to measurement and correct application. Additionally, it’s unclear whether all devices have considered differences in male versus female physiology, and if natural fluctuations in female physiology may interfere with data accuracy or collection.  

Another consideration concerning data obtained from wearable devices is the risk related to privacy and data sharing of personal information. Ethical considerations around who owns the data (patient, tech company, healthcare provider) and ensuring consent is given to share said data is an important part of the conversation around using wearable data.

Future Directions and Innovations

Research on wearable health technology has shown the possibilities for different applications in healthcare, including fertility tracking, COVID-19 and other viral illness prediction, and psychological interventions, in addition to basic health monitoring and health optimization. Additionally, underrepresented populations (including individuals with rarer chronic diseases) can more easily be included in studies by using data from wearable health technology. There is also ongoing research about the use of wearable technology to help predict population-level health trends and dynamics, with the potential to help better understand the global impact of health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Devices that are sleeker and easier to wear will likely continue to be developed in the industry for seamless data collection and minimal disruption to everyday life for wearers. Enhancement of sensors is another trend likely to continue, with fine-tuning of data collection as well as data app algorithms to improve accuracy and precision as much as possible. Also, expect to see more healthcare systems integrating device use and data into healthcare programs and patient care, with hopes of streamlining the patient’s engagement and path to success.  

Integrating Wearables into Healthcare Systems

An important aspect of using wearable device data more in clinical practice is considering how to integrate that data into existing healthcare systems and workflows. Integrating wearable device apps directly with electronic health records or practice management software would be an ideal way to streamline records and use of the data by healthcare teams. Technology may be a barrier here, with the need for compatibility of data to move from app to software systems. Additionally, policy changes may also need to be considered at the practice management level as well as by the device makers to ensure patient data is safe and that patients have permitted for their data to be transferred and stored.  

Training healthcare teams and staff on different wearable technologies and results interpretation is another important strategy when looking at how to integrate wearable data into existing healthcare systems. Not every practitioner is familiar with the types of data obtained from wearable devices, and training systems would likely need to be in place to ensure that team members who are collecting and reading the data from patients are confident in what they are looking at.  


Using Wearable Devices in Chronic Disease Management

Wearable devices have the potential to transform the future of chronic disease management, allowing for earlier interventions and more personalization in care plans based on individual patient data. Studies have found that including wearable device data in chronic disease management may reduce acute hospitalizations and improve symptoms when regularly collected. As the tech industry continues to grow, development teams, healthcare systems, and patients must collaborate and communicate to maximize the usefulness and benefits of wearable devices, while also maintaining data privacy and patient privacy along the way.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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