Care Transformation Center Blog

Smart watches, smart care: How wearables can improve patient engagement

by Jasmaine McClain

Wearable devices have exploded in the market in the last five years, with 245 million devices projected for sale by 2019. This new opportunity for patient engagement intrigues many providers who seek evidence-based approaches to care, though many remain skeptical about the accuracy of data and the ability to integrate this information into electronic medical records.

To keep pace with this new consumer trend, many provider organizations are looking for guidance on how to successfully integrate these devices into their clinical workflows. We’ve highlighted three innovative ways hospitals and health systems are using these evolving technologies to improve care.

1. Leverage user-friendly devices to manage chronic conditions.

Given the increasing burden of chronic disease on health care, hospitals and health systems are now turning to wearables to support patients diagnosed with chronic diseases. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is launching a new study in partnership with FitBit to proactively manage obesity in women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

This collaboration will enable investigators to launch an unprecedented study on the impact of weight loss on breast cancer recurrence. According to Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, a breast oncologist at Dana-Farber, "FitBit products will allow coaches to see how participants are doing in terms of meeting their weight, physical activity and caloric goals, and step in when women need extra support to stay on track." Results from Dana-Farber’s combination of cutting-edge technology and strategic provider interactions will serve as a blueprint for future work with wearables.

2. Upskill high-need patients with ongoing use of technology.

Wearable devices can support real-time data collection to proactively manage symptoms for targeted patient populations. This patient-reported data can increase the accuracy of reported changes in progressive conditions that can positively impact clinical decision-making.

Dr. Danish Bhatti, a neuroscientist at the Nebraska College of Medicine, has recently launched Trequant, a wearable device designed to look like an analog watch that tracks tremors for Parkinson’s patients. The corresponding data is collected in a mobile app that the patient and physician can review together in regular visits, allowing them to discuss qualitative patient feedback in parallel with quantitative data (e.g., length and strength of tremors) that is uploaded from the device. The most remarkable aspect of this innovation is its clever use of motion data to improve the quality of routine patient interactions, while minimizing the burden on medical staff.

3. Use health-tech to expand your brand.

As a leading manufacturer for wearable devices and consumer technologies, Apple has a well-established brand that is recognized by the lay public. Physicians at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper introduced the emPOWER app on an Apple Watch in a pilot partnership with Polaris Health Directions to track behavioral health data for enrolled breast cancer patients. The Apple Watch tracks symptoms such as heart rate and patient activity levels, while the emPower app collects symptom and distress data from patients at regular intervals.

The system’s ingenious use of leading technology to improve patient experience has garnered praise from their target population and participating providers alike. One patient lauded the consistent avenue of support, saying that "it’s been like a companion because I felt all alone…I get inspiration from it."


With the growing interest from today's patient-consumers, creativity in care delivery can now involve new technologies as a tool for increased patient engagement. Provider organizations can strategically boost loyalty by using wearables to expand their reach beyond the "four walls" of their physical facility.

What do consumers want from health care?

We surveyed thousands of consumers across the country to better understand what's driving their health care decisions. Our infographic compiles the top findings from our three consumer choice surveys to help you attract patients for on-demand services, retain patients in primary care, and win self-referrals in specialty care.

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