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Driving the empowered patient phenomenon forward

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With more health data such as ECG and blood oxygen available on our wrists, devices such as the Apple Watch allow users to keep close tabs on their health.

We often hear stories today about how wearables are actually saving lives and can even help diagnose COVID-19. For instance, recently, Apple Watch’s ECG and fall detection features reportedly helped save a 70-year-old man’s life by alerting authorities about his fainting spell. But are these devices really that effective? Let’s find out!

Today, many people around the world are using wearables for several different reasons. Devices like the Apple Watch are connected to our smartphones and record some of our vitals continuously, something which has been a significant missing link in healthcare till now, highlighted Dr Zakiuddin Ahmed. A visionary strategist, healthcare entrepreneur, physician leader, coach & invited speaker who specialises in developing socially beneficial and innovative solutions in healthcare through information technology, Dr Ahmed has been working in the digital health space for over two decades.

In a conversation with Omnia Health Magazine, he said: “A device that provides continuum, which means that people can have access to their heart rate over a period of time, is a beneficial tool for monitoring health.”

For instance, a patient’s blood pressure is recorded only when they visit the doctor, which might be once every two or three months or even longer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide enough information for healthcare professionals to make informed decisions.

One of the primary use of wearables today is the ability to track exercise and monitor step count. The Apple Watch on top of this has important and life-saving health features that give patients the ability to monitor certain health metrics from the convenience of their wrist. Patients also have the ability to share those metrics with their physicians giving health specialists a better window into their health’s condition and helping them make more informed decisions.

Dr Ahmed said that chronic disease burdens such as diabetes and heart disease are some of the leading causes of death, and these have doubled in the last few years. So, having an Apple Watch reminding you to walk, stand up every 15 minutes, and regularly move your body is extremely important. “You can’t treasure what you can’t measure. So, measuring something provides the opportunity to treasure the information and then put it to use. Wearables have also helped create a shift and started creating more empowered patients.”

An empowered patient is someone who is informed and has education or information about their own disease condition or wellness. They are involved in the process of decision making and take responsibility for responding to the information. So, any device, which monitors different vitals and provides information to the consumer, is facilitating this shift of creating an empowered patient.

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This empowered patient phenomenon has been taken to a whole new level with the Apple Watch series. The device series 4 and onwards comes with an electrocardiogram (ECG) feature. Sensors included in the watch can measure heart rhythm and electrical activity. The device has four LED clusters, which allow ECG and SpO2 measurements. In addition, the digital crown on the right side of the watch doubles up as a sensor for the ECG feature.

The ECG on the watch is not a 12 lead or a six lead one. But the benefit of having such a device on your wrist is that it gives you information about arrhythmias, for instance. “There is great value in having a continuum of the heart rhythm monitored and recorded. Arrhythmias alone kill millions of people in the world. Even with if one or two leads in the device, it gives you enough information to monitor the rhythm of your heart and could potentially save one from atrial fibrillation,” emphasised Dr Ahmed.

The advantage here, he stressed, is that having a device such as an Apple Watch that not only monitors your rhythm but also provides connectivity between the patient and the physician and makes a difference in the treatment involved in keeping that person healthy.

Apple Watch Series 6 or later also comes with a blood oxygen sensor to monitor heart and respiratory health. The results are displayed on the health app on the iPhone. Low blood oxygen levels have been linked to COVID-19 because it affects the ability to get enough oxygen. And if you are wearing a device, which continuously monitors your health, that could potentially help doctors determine the severity of the disease. The health sensor shines infrared lights to calculate the colour of a person’s blood, which indicates blood-oxygen level, in 15 seconds. It also captures periodic background readings and stores them while the person sleeps.

“However, the devices cannot diagnose COVID-19; that’s false. These measurements are not intended for medical use and are designed for general fitness and wellness purposes,” he added.

One of the most interesting features that I found in my experience of using the Apple Watch Series 6 was the hand wash feature, which is so crucial for the time we live in! The microphones and motion sensors of the watch are able to detect handwashing motions automatically. The mode lasts for 20 seconds. If you finish earlier than that, the screen prompts you to keep washing your hands. Another great feature is the sleep tracker that allowed me to establish a regular bedtime routine.

Dr Ahmed concluded by saying that behaviour change is fundamental in healthcare. Physicians also need to change their behaviour, as it is one of the significant barriers to technology adoption. “It is imperative that we educate physicians. There needs to be enough evidence and data, which shows that the patients who wear these devices change their behaviour for the better, and they are becoming more empowered patients. So, there is a need to create this link and show physicians the proof of concepts.” 

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.

TAGS: Wearables
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