Patients often walk in with printed logs from wearable devices and ask their doctors to help them interpret the information.
A year of activity tracking from a pedometer, for instance, or a few months of their daily calorie consumption. For many practices, this is becoming a more common occurrence and physicians are being asked for their opinions on activity tracker data, patient-created spreadsheets full of information collected from wearable devices or even paper diaries listing tracked data. ¹
Some patients may have as much as several years of recorded information about their health, with typically very little of it broken down or summarized. The doctor is expected to spend five minutes reviewing it, come up with an interpretation on the spot for the patient, and then have meaningful suggestions based on a ream of data.
This may not always be realistic, but you can still help your patients. ¹
What some patients really want when they present a large volume of data is reassurance or recognition. Perhaps your patient with a chronic illness really just wants you to say that you are impressed with how well he self-monitors his condition. Or maybe your patient is a fan of fitness and wants to improve her health, and she is trying to prove to you how seriously she views her health. ¹
Before you give them an answer, think carefully about what the patient is trying to accomplish. They may be really concerned about their health, so they express their concern by trying to study and record whatever they can. So, your first step should be to reassure or praise patients who go through this level of effort to monitor their health.
Yes, it is true that many wearables monitor health statistics automatically, but it can still take effort on the patient’s part to consistently wear the tracker, print the data or collect it together. Recognizing that effort can help you build rapport. ¹
To offer interpretations for patients, you should give yourself sufficient time to review the information provided by your patient.
Following these tips may help you provide better interpretations: ¹ ²
- Ask for a summary. If your patient has a dashboard page in their wearable’s desktop or smartphone software that can sum up or offer statistical highlights, that is possibly more useful than disorganized stats.
- Review a “week in the life.” Looking at the past week of data may help you get a decent picture of your patient’s typical stats.
- Ask your patient what the data means to them. When your patient looks at her month’s data, she may be seeing the struggles in Week 2 that she had with finding the time to exercise, for example. If you ask her what she hopes you will look for in her exercise log, she will probably already have an opinion.
- If you have a specific statistic in mind that you recommend for patients to track, provide them with a system to do the reporting. For instance, show them how to create a spreadsheet with the data or keep a paper diary if the wearable does not already generate a usable format for you. If you prefer to receive data in particular formats, let your patients know.
With more wearables coming on the market all the time, patients can self-monitor activity levels, calories consumed, sleep patterns, heart rate and other stats. In the future, wearables tracking other information such as blood glucose levels may become more common.
Helping patients use wearables
Be sure to explain how to safely and properly use wearables if you encourage your patients to use them. Plenty of electronic devices are helping patients generate data, but this data is not always necessarily usable in the original formats.
Communicating to patients about tracking health stats can help you connect with them and build rapport. If they bring you data that is not entirely useful, take a moment to educate them.
- Langston, Jennifer. “Doctor, patient expectations differ on fitness and lifestyle tracking.” UWNews. http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/02/29/doctor-patient-expectations-differ-on-fitness-and-lifestyle-tracking/. Published: February 2016. Accessed: July 2017.
- Standen, Amy. “Sure You Can Track Your Health Data, But Can Your Doctor Use It?” Shots: Health News from NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/01/19/377486437/sure-you-can-track-your-health-data-but-can-your-doctor-use-it. Published: January 2015. Accessed: