How wearables changed patient engagement for 3 physicians

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When wearable devices started to come with health features a decade ago, physicians were hesitant about their accuracy. Now, physicians are embracing the devices and using the information to engage patients, The Verge reported Nov. 1.

The Verge spoke with several physicians about how wearable devices have altered how they engage and monitor their patients and what difficulties still arise from using smartwatches in medical care.

Seven things to know:

  1. Mohamed Elshazly, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said his first patient with an Apple Watch came in about four years ago. The man came to see him after having occasional heart palpitations for a year, and other physicians hadn't been able to offer a diagnosis because he hadn’t been wearing a heart monitor during any of those incidents.

    When the Apple Watch detects an abnormal heart rhythm, it prompts the user to do an electrocardiogram reading on the watch. Dr. Elshazly pulled up the health app on the patient's phone, looked at the reading and diagnosed the patient with atrial fibrillation.

  2. Although Allen Byron, MD, a cardiologist and clinical professor at the University of California in Irvine, told The Verge that Apple Watches can be helpful, he said approximately one-third of patients who come in to his practice worried about a watch notification have a false positive reading.

  3. Dr. Byron also said devices such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit make it easier for physicians to monitor patients at home and enable patients to be more engaged with their own care.

  4. The onus will be on physicians to sort through the massive amount of data smartwatches collect, The Verge reported.

    "The engineers have been able to give us all this data and create all these sensors for us," Dr. Elshazly said. "Now it’s up to us to analyze that data and figure out how to make clinical sense of it."

  5. Seema Khosla, MD, medical director of the North Dakota Center of Sleep, said 10 years ago, when many patients made appointments with her office because they received a concerning notification on their wearable device, she was unsure of what to think about the information the devices provided. Now if Dr. Khosla sees a Fitbit on a patient's wrist, she asks about it.

  6. Dr. Khosla said the device functions as a patient engagement tool. She asks them why they track their sleep, what they think about the information it gives them and how it makes them feel. Devices often offer more objective information than a sleep log, which patients are supposed to fill out to capture their sleep patterns. Dr. Khosla said that "inevitably they end up filling that out in the parking lot before the appointment."

  7. Although Dr. Khosla looks at information that wearable devices have flagged as concerning, she said the devices vary in accuracy, and that might cause unnecessary anxiety for patients, The Verge reported.

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