Tag Archives: digital technology

The Cost of Chronic Disease

The primary issue that consumes the majority of the burden of healthcare costs in the United States is preventable chronic disease: while the most prevalent health conditions are simultaneously the most avoidable, they continue to cost the country’s budget billions of dollars. While overall numbers have decreased since 2010, when chronic disease cost the U.S. a total of $315 billion, morbid obesity rates have continued to rapidly spike—a condition that leads to a range of critical health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Primary care providers have long faced the struggle of determining how to implement best practice care for patients diagnosed with chronic diseases. Recent studies indicate that almost half of the entire U.S. population has at least one chronic health condition—including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, or arthritis. Statistics designate these health care treatments costs to account for 86% of cumulative national healthcare spending, and the CDC reports that chronic conditions are the leading causes of death and disability in the country.

Yet the past decade has seen the advent and proliferation of digital health technology, spurring the generation of new techniques and strategies for healthcare professionals to utilize in chronic disease management. These types of technology vary in terms of accessibility and usability, but include remote monitoring, mobile health apps installable on phones, and wireless wearables—which serve as activity trackers.

A series of interviews conducted by Medical News Today demonstrate a bright future for the potential of new technology, and its ability to spur and provide high-quality care. Suzanne Falck, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, noted that a highly successful digital tool is currently in use for the management of heart failure: an implanted sensor immediately transmits data to a healthcare practitioner, who then analyzes the data in order to make medical recommendations. Further clinical trials and studies indicate that remote monitoring is more cost-effective than traditional, conventional management.

Moreover, the burgeoning popularity of medical apps signifies that mobile technology can make a hugely positive impact on chronic disease management. There are currently approximately 259,000 medical health apps available to purchase; over half are aimed at targeting consumers with chronic conditions. Clinical trials have repeatedly shown that patients with type 2 diabetes who utilized an app to monitor their blood glucose levels showed greater benefits than those who did not. A recent article in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics states that the prognosis in patients with diabetes is ‘strongly influenced by the degree of control of their disease,’ which reinforces the effectiveness of self-management support through mobile apps.

Another innovative and exciting development is wearable technology and devices, which are currently being studied in a variety of clinical research settings. Many healthcare providers believe that the ‘potential of this technology is endless,’ as they can improve access to care while simultaneously enhancing convenience—and likely patient compliance.

Most importantly, being conscious of medicinal needs and treatments requires a consistently high level of responsibility and awareness. Healthcare experts urge patients to take active, informed roles in managing their health: online workshops have been developed to offer chronic disease self-management programs, which have been proven to significantly improve health statuses. Moreover, healthcare practitioners and professionals must collectively work together and utilize the new landscape of digital medical technology to their patients’ benefits.

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Wearables: Potential to Predict Disease

A host of studies and research confirms the burgeoning theory that wearable health technology, an innovation that has progressively gained traction in medical and consumer arenas, can positively affect healthcare and patients’ wellness. Moreover, researchers have found that data from smartwatches have the capabilities to both detect—and even predict—the onset of disease. 

Because a large segment of the population utilizes smartwatches, an enormous amount of data and metrics portray a more comprehensive overview of health, as opposed to a solitary visit to the doctor. Researchers from Stanford University conducted a study during which they gave participants smartwatches, and subsequently analyzed almost a year of the data. Measurements included skin temperature, heart rate, and data collected from sleep.

When analyzing the data, the team found that ‘out-of-the-ordinary measurements’—specifically heart rate—had strong correlations with health issues like the common cold. Additionally, more detailed data was collected from several participants, for two years. Researchers evaluated this data, and chose the four dates during which measurements were out of the ordinary: the heart rate and skin temperature were specifically elevated. During a period when the measurements were abnormal, the participant had developed Lyme disease; during the other periods, he had a fever, or the common old.

These measurements have strong correlations with inflammation, suggesting that the data was able to pinpoint and pick up on signs of inflammation. Other participants who were ill during the period they used smartwatches demonstrated measurements of elevated heart rate and skin temperatures. Moreover, in a separate experiment, the team found that insulin resistance had a connection to body mass index and heart rate—the latter of which was measured by a smartwatch.

The simplicity behind wearing a fitness wristband, and any wearable health technology, can more easily help surgeons detect which patients are at risk for complications. Evidence-based studies have demonstrated that the integration of wireless technology strongly correlates with ‘postoperative quality-of-life data,’ and reinforces research that surgeons should consistently track their patients’ results and quality of life.

These findings reaffirm the belief that surgeons have the capability to routinely measure patient-centered results–including anxiety, postoperative pain, and the ease with which patients can perform daily tasks and activities. While surgeons do not regularly practice this type of aftercare, and follow up on patients’ recovery, this monitoring system establishes an exciting and inventive kind of versatility, portability, and ultimate healthcare awareness that should be incorporated and put into practice.

The idea that smartwatches can predict and detect disease could become a widespread phenomenon, which would ultimately become an accessible and convenient tool for diagnosis. Wearables may have the potential to eliminate doctor visits, particularly for people who have geographical or monetary difficulties.

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