Out of the Digital Dark Ages and Into the New Age of Preventive Medicine
Serious question: Is it just me or did you think it was called “preventative medicine,” too? Turns out, the proper name is “preventive medicine.” (Who knew???) Semantics aside, we’ve all heard the term as it’s the healthcare industry’s latest buzzword, or at least it was before we had the term “COVID-19.” It simply means taking a proactive approach to medicine in order to prevent disease. But how we go about doing that has dramatically changed over the last few years, and more recently over the last three months.
How many of you are currently wearing an Apple Watch or a Fitbit on your wrist right now? Guilty as charged! And you better believe I’m closing my rings today. What can sometimes just feel like a fun competition with yourself or others to close your rings or reach your step count for the day, is actually the new age of preventive medicine. Think about it: that small device is tracking your steps and heart rate, monitoring your sleep, and can even perform an electrocardiogram (ECG). Preventive medicine is no longer just your annual check-up with your primary care physician, it’s a daily habit. With these devices, most of us practice preventive medicine without even knowing it. Of course, most health plans must cover a set of preventive services including vaccines and screening tests, but preventive healthcare has evolved past this and now is quite literally at our fingertips. Not to mention, these devices are now playing a critical role in healthcare as we transition into “our new normal” of telehealth visits amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic. My apple watch allowed me to give my doctor my heart rate and other important vitals during my last telehealth visit.
Some companies are harnessing the power of these devices and applications by creating an incentivized health plan based on activity levels and fitness progress; the more active you are, the more rewards you get. Recently, I have been experiencing a similar program through my health insurance company. The program works roughly like this: every time I log a workout, I earn digital points that I can exchange for real-life items like espresso machines, song downloads, electronics, gift cards, etc. In my mind, I zeroed in on the goal of a new flat-screen TV; this would require working out three times a week to accumulate enough points. On top of a free TV, this would come with the additional personal bonus of lowering my cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of diabetes in the meantime! It also benefits my insurance provider by proactively keeping me healthier and thus cheaper for them to insure. Talk about a win-win! Now, to be honest, pre-COVID-19 this was a lot easier to achieve because I could go to my gym or a workout class with friends; now I must do it on my own in my house. Luckily having an Apple Watch during this challenging time is allowing me to come up with unique ways to get a workout in while I’m at home – who knew that carrying the laundry up and down the stairs a few times could burn so many calories?!
Were you aware that many patient portals, including NextGen, allow patients to upload their FitBit or Apple Watch data? Me neither, until I had the opportunity to upload mine prior to my telehealth appointment as a part of the new virtual check-in process. This means that patient health data can be collected year-round and accessed by providers prior to appointments. This is huge! This allows your care team to get a full picture of a patient, rather than the one-hour wellness visit once a year. Does this patient actually have high blood pressure, or are they just nervous to be seen in the office? Does this patient actually work out four times per week, or is it more like four times per year? This is taking preventive medicine to the next level, not only for the patient but for the provider as well.
Truly, this is the first time in technological history that a person has been able to practice preventive medicine without stepping foot inside a doctor’s office (not to say preventive screenings and vaccinations are not also important because they most definitely are). Unfortunately, with the current state of events, a lot of these routine check-ups haven’t been happening, but with these new devices and applications, we are encouraging society to stay proactive and take their health into their own hands even if they can’t go to the doctor’s office right now. Incentivized programs are encouraging employees to be more active and lead a healthier lifestyle. These methods of preventive healthcare all point towards one main goal: keeping society healthier, which in turn will keep healthcare costs down. The cost of healthcare has risen dramatically and continues to do so, but we are hopeful that with these new innovations and technological advances people will continue to practice preventive medicine more and more. Now more than ever, technology is critical to healthcare and these devices are facilitating telemedicine and preventive. This idea of bringing your healthcare home and being an active participant in your care by using remote devices will be part of our new normal.
Even if you aren’t trying to finagle your way into a free TV, you can still recognize how preventive health has evolved around you and take advantage of it! The smallest changes can have the biggest impact, and this speaks volumes when talking about health. At Itentive, we embrace the rapid evolvement of healthcare with open arms and truly value the importance of practicing preventive (or preventative) medicine. And as for me, at this rate with a few more walks and loads of laundry, I’ll have my free TV in 6 more weeks.
- Kennedy Shasteen, Implementation Consultant at Itentive Healthcare Solutions