Increasing Patient Engagement in the Age of Smartwatches

By Nate Brogan, President of Notification Services, West

Are smartwatches lifesaving devices? Some Apple Watch owners think so. Ever since Apple introduced its smartwatch that can monitor for atrial fibrillation, stories have emerged from users who credit their smartwatch for helping save their life. While many smartwatch users never consider that their watch could potentially be lifesaving, it is a popular belief that there are health benefits to wearing a smartwatch. As a result, Apple Watches, Fitbit Versa Watches, Samsung Galaxy Watches and many other types of smartwatches are being used to track and record health information by patients who want to be more involved in their own health monitoring and management. Because smartwatch ownership is on the rise, healthcare teams may see a bump in the number of patients who are both informed about their health and more engaged in their healthcare. Therefore, it is up to healthcare teams to recognize and be prepared for new opportunities to improve communication between healthcare appointments, inspire care plan adherence and support chronic disease management. Those who do so may be able to drive improved outcomes for their patients.

More adults than ever in the U.S.—an estimated 28.7 million—are expected to use a smartwatch this year. As a result, healthcare providers may notice that more of their patients are:

  • Easily accessible – Patients with smartwatches can read text and email messages from healthcare providers simply by glancing at their wrist.
  • Likely to routinely think about and review their health data – From counting steps to monitoring their heart rate, patients with constant access to health-related data and insights are likely to have their health more at the forefront of their mind.
  • Able to track their progress toward health goals – Patients can track their health trends over time thanks to various smartwatch features and applications.

As more patients opt to utilize smartwatches for health management, here are three examples of how providers can take advantage of their growing popularity to increase patient engagement:

  1. Send patients notifications to improve communication between visits.
    One of the benefits that Apple uses to market its line of smartwatches is connectivity. Apple’s message is that Apple Watch users can stay connected by using their watch to “take calls, send texts and listen to voicemail” wherever they go. Of course, connectivity is not exclusive to the Apple Watch. The majority of patients who use a smartwatch can receive messages from their healthcare team whenever they have their watch on their wrist. This is making it easier than ever to communicate with patients in between appointments.Healthcare teams can use the patient engagement technology that they currently use to deliver appointment reminders to easily send text messages to patients about anything from appointments to medication reminders. Text messages are a convenient way to communicate and can easily be viewed on a smartwatch. Plus, a West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S. revealed that six in ten Americans (60%) believe it is extremely or very important for their healthcare providers to communicate with them via texting outside of in-person appointments. Whether providers want to encourage patients to be physically active or invite them to schedule a preventive health screening, sending text messages is an effective way to engage patients.
  2. Link activity tracking to care plans.
    Forty-five percent of smartwatch owners use their watch’s activity tracking feature daily. When patients use smartwatches to track their daily calorie intake or how long they exercised, it can help build healthy behaviors. Healthcare teams can encourage patients who want to use activity tracking features on their smartwatches to make sure that they are tracking the things that map to their individual care plans.A lot of patients have difficulty sticking to care plans because it means they must make difficult lifestyle changes. Maybe a patient’s care plan involves exercising more or making dietary changes. That patient’s healthcare provider can encourage him to utilize sensors and apps that are available on his smartwatch to monitor his progress in those areas. The provider can then ask the patient to share his progress through survey monitoring check-ins. Based on the patient’s progress, the healthcare team may decide to send automated text, email or voicemail messages to the patient that challenge him to meet specific goals, remind him about the benefits of sticking to his care plan, offer him additional support and resources or congratulate him when he achieves milestones.West’s survey found that nearly all healthcare providers (98%) believe it is important to use automated messages to encourage patients to take specific actions. Smartwatches can help inform providers what those actions should be based on individuals’ health readings and care plans.
  3. Use health insights to help improve chronic disease management.
    Patients with chronic health conditions stand to benefit considerably from using smartwatches. Why? When patients use smartwatches, they can better understand and track their health metrics. Oftentimes patients have too little knowledge of their target and current health metrics. This makes managing chronic health conditions difficult. But healthcare teams can work with patients to help them understand and take action on health insights captured by their smartwatches. As a result, patients may be better able to manage their chronic conditions at home and in their daily lives.Consider how difficult managing diabetes is when patients have little knowledge of what their blood glucose is, what it should be or how to maintain a healthy level. Technology is available that lets patients sync a smartwatch and a glucose monitoring device so they can easily view and track their glucose readings. Providers can encourage patients to use smartwatches to track glucose readings as part of their treatment plan. Then, healthcare teams can follow up with additional support. For example, a provider might want to send a series of text messages to patients with tips to help them know what warning signs could signal complications. Or, providers can send patients alerts when they are due for routine foot and eye exams or A1c screenings. West’s survey revealed that eight in ten patients with diabetes (80%) feel it is very important for healthcare providers to ensure that patients understand their current and target health metrics. With smartwatches, this is becoming much easier.The number of smartwatch users in the U.S. is growing and health-related smartwatch features and apps are evolving. Healthcare teams need to be ready to respond to and leverage the popularity of these devices and technologies. With a few simple strategies, healthcare teams can capitalize on smartwatch trends and improve communication and support health management.