Why wearables are the right step in balancing the ‘burden of care’

“By prioritising better patient visibility, we can optimise care and re-set what has become a drastically unbalanced ‘burden of care’ spectrum.”


September 3, 2021

“By prioritising better patient visibility, we can optimise care and re-set what has become a drastically unbalanced ‘burden of care’ spectrum.”

Ian Binks, Ascom’s business development manager for global clinical solutions, shares his views on the transformative power of wearables.

Clichés may be tiresome, but they are also generally true. None more so – certainly when it comes to healthcare – than the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’.

The idea that we should focus on developing measures that help keep people out of hospital in the first place, especially acute critical care, is hardly radical. What is considered more radical is the claim that we can achieve this right now. And in my view, it really shouldn’t be. Especially if we look at the transformative impact wearables are having on care.

But before I go any further, let me first take you to Italy.

COVID: exceptional circumstances, applicable lessons

During the pandemic, the ASL Napoli 1 centre adopted wearables as a key part of its patient care strategy.

By integrating a range of wearable medical devices (equipped with appropriate grade sensors) with its care workflows and patient records system, the hospital was able to safely, accurately, and efficiently monitor symptomatic patients in their homes. This avoided the need to admit people unnecessarily when hospitals were struggling to cope. The digitisation of this process freed up doctors, nurses, and hospital resources to focus on those who needed critical care, without reducing the level of care to patients at home. All because they were able to maintain a high level of visibility via remote monitoring.

I know what you may be thinking. These were exceptional circumstances. Well yes, but the principle behind this initiative is universally applicable, especially to an NHS at breaking point. Because by prioritising better patient visibility, we can optimise care and re-set what has become a drastically unbalanced ‘burden of care’ spectrum. Let me explain.

Re-setting the spectrum of healthcare through better visibility

Consider healthcare provision as a linear spectrum. To the far left we have preventative and proactive care for patients in their homes. To the far right, we have the most acute level of hospital care.

The ‘burden of care’ associated with this right-hand side is extremely high, from the cost of drugs and medical equipment to the impact on human and hospital resources. By contrast, the burden of care on the far left is low. But this comes at the expense of visibility and patient safety.

So, while it’s clear that moving from right to left benefits us all, every step along this line – from acute care to general ward, from ward to assisted facility etc. – makes it harder to monitor health status. Which is problematic, especially in terms of identifying deterioration that may move patients back up the line. To date, this ‘visibility drop’ has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and to keeping essential hospital stays as short as possible.  

The good news? It’s a stumbling block that can be removed, or at least greatly diminished, by remote monitoring via wearables. It’s time to reset the spectrum.

Integration holds the key

Integration is another important element in the transformation mix, as we can see from Italy.

Integrating sensor-obtained (wearable) clinical data with care processes and hospital staff communications and applying clinical decision support is what made ASL’s pilot successful. It made patient data from wearables both visible and actionable. And that’s what’s needed for more widespread adoption of this solution in healthcare.

By pairing wearable solutions with software that supports vendor neutral integration and provides clinical decision support tools, proactive care to prevent admissions becomes infinitely more feasible. Not only that, but patient care by hospital clinicians becomes ‘location agnostic’ as patients are no longer restricted to specific units, wards, and certainly not to their beds – as wearables make them constantly ‘visible’. They guarantee that changes in condition are immediately identified, and that appropriate support is given.

In other words, patient care and hospital processes are optimised by safely and proactively moving patients along that spectrum. Ultimately hospital stays are prevented or shortened.

With all that in mind, what is the true value of wearables? With the right integration, they have the potential to set patients and healthcare practitioners free.

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