Today’s patient is reaching a new level of empowerment by taking control of his or her health to better manage heart disease and underlying risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity. Technology — smartphones, wearables, virtual reality and augmented reality — enables instantaneous, personalized data collection that helps consumers remain in control while granting clinicians access to a richer data set to aid in diagnosis and treatment.
Such tools have truly become a mechanism to fuel more informed conversations with doctors.
Holistic and Real-Time Patient Engagement
In particular, wearables and applications that track blood pressure levels can help to highlight trends that provide a more holistic picture of a condition to a healthcare team during a routine visit. A patient can easily pull out their smartphone and point to noticeable changes in blood pressure levels through a mobile application, which can lead to a more informed conversation with the doctor.
Browsing today’s app store, people can easily find tools that support healthy dieting, exercise, stress management and emotional support. Such solutions can be particularly powerful for people living with peripheral artery disease and heart failure, as they can record minute-by-minute walking capabilities in conjunction with exercise therapy.
Video chat and instant messaging solutions, meanwhile, can keep patients better connected to their care teams. While not ideal for every condition, video visits are great for those who have been prescribed a new blood pressure medication; a telehealth consultation allows a clinician to see how a patient is tolerating their medication in real time, rather than forcing a potentially unnecessary and time-consuming trip.
Cutting-edge AR and VR programs are also being deployed to improve care for heart disease patients. Pediatric cardiologists at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, for instance, are leveraging the Stanford Virtual Heart, a VR program that enables students and researchers to virtually enter the heart to observe structural defects in children. Students at Stanford University School of Medicine, meanwhile, are using the tool to visualize practices currently deployed by other surgeons.
New Tools Must Be Grounded in Science and Security
While such solutions are exciting, we face two challenges: ensuring these applications are built with science at their core and can be used securely. Applications and devices must be rooted in the latest research and associated with improved patient outcomes. Organizations, such as the American Heart Association, are working with leading industry professionals to establish guidelines for developers to ensure technology has the end user’s health outcomes in mind.
The goal is to bring together people, healthcare professionals, caregivers and scientists to move forward in this field. Security is equally imperative to prevent potentially devastating system breaches or misuse of personal health information.
While data can be insightful, it can also be overwhelming, especially for untrained individuals. To help mitigate anxiety and confusion, healthcare systems must adjust to the new reality that today’s patient is armed with more information than patients of the past. New approaches must be implemented to adequately help consumers process their health data and, in turn, implement effective treatment measures to improve his or her health.
As technology evolves, healthcare professionals, researchers and technologists must converge around the needs of both patients and clinicians to implement new tools to prevent and treat heart disease. It’s crucial that the next wave of technology be supported by science and built to meet the needs, not of developers and researchers working in silos, but of real patients and their healthcare providers.