Most people stay at home longer than usual due to the pandemic. They work, study, play sports online - and they use virtual care means to go to doctors. For these online appointments to be truly efficient, patients need to know what's going on with them - in as many details as possible. Luckily, different smartphone apps and wearables help them in that.
Lots of new tracking portable devices have been developed in the recent year - and gained a significant chunk of popularity in 2020. A crisis often triggers new opportunities. mHealth software developers have made significant progress in designing such devices. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: in just two months of 2020, digital transformation has advanced 10 years ahead.
Now, there are gadgets to, for instance, track sleep cycles. They cover sleep optimization parameters: its mechanics, light, sound, temperature, fresh air, etc. Convenient new items become the most comfortable to wear: Umay Rest glasses, Hupnos eye mask, SoothSoft Chillow pillow, Sleep Tracking Mat, SmartDuvet Breeze blanket.
If people need to track physical activity, they use fitness trackers (Huawei watch, Xiaomi Mi Band, etc.). For establishing dietary habits and tracking calories, there are MyFitnessPal and FatSecret. If users plan to visit a gynecologist, they should remember their cycle data. When a person is diagnosed with neuroses, the doctor needs to monitor his sleep quality. The American Heart Association recommends monitoring heart rate and blood pressure for those with hypotension or hypertension risks. Knowing the state of users' bodies allows them to predict and avoid a heart attack. Checking blood sugar levels several times a day is one of the most important recommendations for patients with diabetes - now it can be tracked with a glucometer. And there soon will be more devices that store all of the trackers above.
It has been forecasted that the wearable medical devices market may g to grow 9.4% from 2019 to 2025. For patients, this means fewer invasive procedures and doctor visits, but more self-monitoring options.
What data is collected by self-reporting tools
Patient self-monitoring is necessary when it comes to experimental clinical research. When using drugs or placebo, it's necessary to pinpoint the time, dosage, and effects after taking a compound. Same works for self-reporting in mental health, nutrition, pain management apps, and lots of others.
Wellbeing. Can be good, satisfactory, or poor. Usually applied to the general state of body and mind. The measurement system is often presented as a mood chart. Wellbeing indicator is often supported with other metrics: measurements of physical activity, pulse trackers.
Sleep. Sleep duration and depth are associated with disturbances. Irregular, not deep sleep can signal distress and the beginning of the depressive episode just as well as insomnia. Inability to fall asleep, tracked by a fitness device, often signals inappropriate exercise timing. Specified wearables can pick up on sleep apnea, snoring, bruxism, and other symptoms that are often the first presentation of a bigger health issue.
Appetite. Is usually tracked by asking users to write in the food they’ve eaten during a day and/or count their calories. Often, these trackers are supported with an appetite chart. Lack of appetite or extreme appetite (as opposed to general user trends) may suggest anxiety, burnout, etc.
Pain. Pain trackers are a major part of self-management apps for chronic pain. Users are usually asked to describe the intensity and duration of pain during a day, pinpoint any deviation from usual pain levels. Pain trackers are also a useful addition to fitness apps (to track muscle and joint pain, if there’s any, after an exercise.)
Weight and height indicator. Is often included in fitness, nutrition apps, and apps for mental health, as sudden weight gain or loss might be a sign of major hormonal shifts that can happen during, for instance, intense manic episodes or after starting a course of antidepressants.
Physical activity. Sometimes, wearables and apps for wellness and fitness include GPS that map users’ movement activities: runs, jogs, steps, and so on. This kind of data are useful for fitness trainers and nutrition specialists in particular.
Life signs. Metrics like pulse, temperature, blood sugar level, oxygen, and other obvious biomarkers of wellness are super useful to include in digital health solutions because users can a) learn how all these things reflect what’s happening to them, b) present these data to a doctor in a hospital or via telemedicine visit.
How to make patient self-monitoring efficient?
Patients would often use care management apps and self-reporting tools if doctors were to recommend them - and the continuous data gathering, even with no inclusion of constant patient monitoring, would give physicians a more comprehensive, detailed picture of patients’ state. Make sure to collaborate with hospitals, clinicians, or specialty care professionals who will be treating users you’re targeting at.
Then, of course, goes the usability of the app. Charts must be easily understandable, usable, made with accessibility in mind. Notifications must not be intruding. App personalization and its availability for certain age categories are also important. If the program is difficult to understand and inconvenient to enter data, it will collect fewer views and downloads.
And, of course, the trackers - especially if there are life-signs trackers are included - must be superaccurate and unbiased. Otherwise, there’s no point to include them. To check if they are accurate, you’ll need clinical research for your solution.
Why implement self-trackers in your digital health app
These methods of data collecting in a care management app would help patients to observe their own recovery process - and the way it’s impacted by recovery activities they’ve done.
Self-reporting tools can help healthcare institutions establish a continuous care process. If patients can inform their assigned physicians about changes in their recovery process, supplying the message with supportive data via chat or in messenger, it feels easy, which encourages people to talk about their health with their care practitioners. That would increase doctors’ engagement in their work and job satisfaction, as making things better (and seeing them becoming better) is one of the reasons they work in healthcare in the first place.
Going back to our talk about accuracy: right now, only 6% of blood pressure monitors are checked for accuracy - and that's a challenge for wearable trackers. Not a lot of popular health apps are being evaluated by their efficiency, usability, and value for patients.
However, self-trackers and apps that include them are gaining popularity - and will get more of it soon. Patients of 2021 like controlling their health, like being aware and knowledgeable about what’s happening to them. Self-reporting tools are an extremely good addition to therapy and fitness apps, and they’re complimenting classic telemedicine solutions well, too.
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