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Why Healthcare Organisations Should Leverage Patient-Generated Health Data

Technology

Mar 23, 2022 - 5 minute read

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Rafał Imielski Content Marketing Specialist

He has two years’ experience in copywriting, translation and proofreading. His goal is to help people communicate in a concise and understandable way. Rafał is an archaeology graduate who’s fascinated by both prehistoric and modern technologies. 

See all Rafał's posts

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The raising popularity of wearable medical devices and health-related applications contributed to an abundance of patient-generated health data (PGHD). This can be any type of health-related data recorded by the patient or their caregiver. Some examples of this include health and treatment history, list of symptoms, biometric data and lifestyle choices.

As opposed to clinical data, PGHD is created or gathered entirely by the patients, their families or caregivers. Patients are in control of both the data capture and data transfer. Some of the apps and devices offer the option of automatically sharing relevant data with clinicians, but only if patients activate this functionality.

This introduces two fundamental challenges. Firstly, it means that patient-collected data can be less reliable than the data collected by the healthcare professionals. The popularity of various electronic sensors can mitigate this risk, but accuracy and user authentication can still pose some problems. Secondly, patients have to decide to share their data with the clinicians. For that to happen, they have to understand why it’s beneficial and voluntarily opt in, which makes education an important part of the process.

Benefits of Utilising Patient-Generated Health Data

The technologies that enable the collection of this data, such as mobile apps, smartwatches, connected glucose monitors, thermometers and other connected devices are not new, but over time they have become more commonplace. Many of them became more established on the market, and in most cases, they have also become more economically accessible. What is, however, new is healthcare organisations’ approach to the collected data, as they have started to see it as increasingly helpful and valuable (which hasn’t always been the case).

Modern day PGHD allows clinicians to track their patients’ health and condition outside the hospital environment. Some conditions, such as diabetes, require more thorough monitoring than just regular check-ups with a physician. Providing access to this real-time generated data to not only the patients but also to the healthcare professionals can help prevent dangerous situations and improve the quality of care. At the same time, it can allow the doctors to track whether the patients actually adhere to the treatment plan and create personalised care plans addressing their individual needs.

Another advantage of utilising patient-generated health data is the active involvement of the patients themselves. A series of interviews with patients and care providers conducted by mHealth in 2020 showed that both these user groups recognise that PGHD helps in aspects such as patients’ awareness of health, improved communication, patient engagement and increased motivation. These are important factors, since getting the patients invested in their own recovery or wellbeing is still a major challenge for care providers. That’s why encouraging patients to take advantage of PGHD technologies is crucial. Certain challenges include a lack of access to technology, poor knowledge of health and technology, and concerns regarding data privacy.

Technical and Organisational Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive growth in the use of virtual health tools, including the ones devoted to remote patient monitoring. Numerous lockdowns and restrictions made collecting data from patients’ homes more of a necessity rather than a convenience. While PGHD solutions‘ popularity was already growing, the speed at which this trend took off during the pandemic was greater than anyone could have expected. Whereas today seems like the right moment to start looking at how the vast amounts of collected data can be used even more effectively.

Ensuring the quality of collected data, its standardisation and interoperability is crucial to being able to fully leverage its potential. At the same time, health and care providers need strong data architecture and organisational structures ready to store, govern, and work with massive volumes of data. Collecting data is only the first step — the real challenge lies in deriving value from it.

The actual, tangible results will depend on the healthcare industry’s ability to manage this unstructured data, organise it, extract valuable information from it, and use it to enhance decision-making. Without technical and organisational readiness, instead of bringing value, the data might be rendered useless, or worse, actually become an impediment. Technologies like artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can play a crucial role in ensuring that the data translates into better care for patients and reduced costs for healthcare organisations.

How to Fully Leverage PGHD?

While the challenges in unlocking the full potential of patient-generated health data are significant, they’re not insurmountable. There are several actions that organisations can take in order to fully leverage the potential of patient-generated health data.

Such measures would include:

  • Educating patients and caregivers on how to use wearables and mobile apps, and encouraging them to share their data and engage in the treatment process.
  • Making sure representative patient groups are involved in testing apps and devices, and that their input is taken into consideration.
  • Building a collaborative approach between healthcare workers and developers in creating PGHD solutions.
  • Creating strong data structures within healthcare organisations to make sure they’re capable of incorporating PGHD into their workflows without disruption (this has already happened for many clinicians, as a result of the pandemic).
  • Focusing on accessibility and user-centric design when creating solutions and devices that capture PGHD.
  • Ensuring strong privacy and security standards, and that they’re clearly communicated to users.

Additionally, some actions are beyond the scope of healthcare organisations and technology providers. Policymakers need to push for standardisation and govern the innovative efforts of healthcare organisations.

Patients often receive their care from multiple providers and use several health-related wearables or mobile apps, which puts forward the need for data interoperability. There are top-down initiatives aiming at ensuring interoperability between providers, and in the case of the European Union, between the member countries.

Summary

As the massive increase in patient-generated health data is relatively recent, this is the perfect time for innovative healthcare organisations to invest in technology that can support the governance and use of this data. Moreover, patients themselves are increasingly interested in using the medical data they generate as part of their treatment plans. There’s a unique opportunity to build a competitive advantage based on the smart use of PGHD.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the technology adoption amongst many healthcare institutions. Most clinicians have already had to incorporate remotely collected data into their workflows. Taking the initiatives that were put in place as a response to a crisis and developing them into long-term, value-driven solutions can be part of a successful strategy for healthcare organisations.

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Rafał Imielski Content Marketing Specialist

He has two years’ experience in copywriting, translation and proofreading. His goal is to help people communicate in a concise and understandable way. Rafał is an archaeology graduate who’s fascinated by both prehistoric and modern technologies. 

See all Rafał's posts

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