How doctors should track your health when you're not in the office

Out of all the waking hours in a year, the typical American spends only a handful of them in their doctor’s office under close watch.  Since many patients dismiss the recommendations they’ve been given, such as not taking their medication, doctors are increasingly interested in finding ways to automate monitoring of their patients outside of the office. 

Michael L. Parchman, director of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, relays a story of a physician he knows who has grown increasingly frustrated with patients not following his advice.  “There’s only so much we can do,” the physician says. 

One possible solution is the idea of “automated hovering.”  As described by Kevin Volpp of the University of Pennsylvania, it would utilize technology such as video, wireless devices, or social media to allow for more frequent feedback on patients.  For instance, Volpp explains the potential of a home scale that would transmit frequent weight information directly to a hospital server for physicians to review.

That feedback could also be tied into incentive programs to help push people into better health habits.  While exploring the problem of non-adherence to medication, Professor Nancy Petry from the University of Connecticut Health Center had her patients create a video of themselves taking their medication, then email her the video, and her clinic would reply back with a financial reward.

However, it can’t come off like Big Brother. It has to be strategically and non-intrusively implemented. Volpp stresses that we need “a more effective way of hovering over patients that will be well-received” using “an engagement strategy that keeps people using it at a high level.”


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