July 30, 2021

Pairing doctors with your devices for improved health

Wellness and fitness-tracking devices can help doctors and patients coordinate on everything from general health goals to managing chronic conditions.

Wearable digital devices, like high-tech wrist straps and smart watches, are designed to help you get healthier by delivering data about your body.

By now, most people are familiar with wearable technology like step-counting devices and smart watches. But they may not be aware that wellness and fitness devices these days can do much more than track their daily treks. These digital devices can become an integral part of the way people work with their doctors to improve general health or even to manage chronic conditions.

“Wearable technology gives us a lot of information about our health and our bodies,” said Anne Toledo, MD, chief of urgent care, for Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest. “This tech has really jumped forward from fitness trackers only.”

Today, wearable technology includes a whole family of devices worn on a wrist or an arm, or that snap on to a belt buckle. They can be used to detect fitness data including miles walked or calories burned, report vital signs like blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, heart rhythm, breathing rate, and temperature; and even provide some indicators of mental health.

“In fact, some of these have been shown to save people’s lives before they have an emergency for things like heart or lung disease,” according to Dr. Toledo. “They can offer both immediate in-the-moment feedback that can help flag health risks and monitor trends over time to help you create long-term health and wellness plans.”

A powerful source of information

With such advanced capabilities, these devices are now a powerful source of information that can give doctors a more complete view of a patient’s health over a period of time.

This technology is being incorporated into innovative medical care at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Heart and Vascular Care at Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas, Oregon, which offers some members the option of virtual cardiac rehabilitation.

Members have a convenient alternative to traditional, medical center-based cardiac rehab, while still allowing doctors to monitor their activity levels and health progress. Participants walk while wearing a fitness tracker that records their steps and heart rate, then they upload that data to a mobile app to securely share it with their health care team.

Technology and connection

Of course, data alone doesn’t solve a problem. It’s still important to meet regularly with a trained medical team to interpret data, monitor progress, set goals, and modify a treatment plan when necessary.

As these devices have become more common, many people may already have the technology required to connect with their doctors in this way. “People use wearable technology for a lot of different things,” said Dr. Toledo. “A lot of people probably don’t know that they’re already wearing something capable of that.”

With so many devices available to consumers today, Dr. Toledo says it’s important to talk to your doctor about what types of wearable technology might make sense to help manage your personal health needs.

“Wearables are very effective at keeping your health top of mind and improving your awareness of what is going on with your body, and your doctor can help you determine which is the right digital device for you.”