Technology Allows Patients and Providers to Connect

Informatics Trends: Patient-Generated Health Data

The increasing number of mobile health apps, coupled with the EMR, may allow patients and providers to connect and collaborate in innovative ways. Nurse informaticians will help to create processes for using patient-generated data to further health goals.

As a nurse, you know that one blood pressure reading doesn’t tell you much about a patient’s overall health, because patients often have elevated blood pressure in a medical setting when they are anxious or upset. These little snapshots we get in a hospital or physician’s office reflect only one moment in time. They consist of data that was gathered infrequently and may or may not be representative of the patient’s health status between episodes of care. But what if there were a way to fill in the gaps, with health data that is more complete and consistent? This is the promise of patient-generated health data.

The term patient-generated health data (PGHD) refers to health-related information that is created, recorded, or gathered by the patient, a family member, or a caregiver. It is not a new concept, as clinicians have always relied on information supplied by patients on medical history forms or in response to questions about symptoms, etc. But now patient-generated data is going digital, thanks to new information technologies – and the vast amounts of health data consumers are now generating through wearable fitness trackers and smartphone apps.

PGHD can supplement the data in the EMR, potentially improving its accuracy or quality. It can provide a more comprehensive picture of ongoing health by providing information on how patients are doing between visits. And it can increase patient engagement and make consumers feel like active partners in their own care. When Stage 3 objectives for meaningful use guidelines are rolled out, they may include expanded requirements for hospitals to collect and use PGHD in ways that complement clinically generated data and improve outcomes.

Currently, there are three main categories of PGHD:

  • Health information recorded through a patient portal. As an example, some health systems are improving medication reconciliation processes by allowing patients to access RX lists and comment about new or discontinued meds, allergies, and any changes to frequency or dose. The information is then reviewed by a pharmacist or physician.
  • Biometric data generated by home health monitoring equipment. This can include weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other measures that are vital to managing chronic disease. The goal in collecting this data is to reduce complication rates, ER visits, and hospital readmissions.
  • Lifestyle information about diet and exercise, as captured by wearable fitness devices or recorded on mobile apps.

Consumer interest in personal health data is growing quickly. The Consumer Electronics Association reported that over 40 million personal health and wellness devices were sold in 2013; that is expected to jump to 70 million by 2018. And according to a recent Pew Research survey, 60 percent of adults in the U.S. track diet, weight, or exercise data; while 33 percent say they track a health indicator like blood pressure, blood glucose, or sleep patterns.

Because consumers are generating so much health-related data, the healthcare IT industry is responding. EMR vendors are beginning to develop interfaces that can unify patient-generated data with clinical data, allowing it to flow seamlessly into the EMR.

But there are still obstacles and barriers to overcome. As of yet, there are no data or technology standards for PGHD, which comes from various sources. How will it be integrated into clinical process and workflows? How will it be compiled and presented for clinicians to view and act on? What about privacy and security issues? And how will we analyze patient-generated data to identify meaningful trends and opportunities to improve outcomes?

Healthcare is currently in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. As PGHD goes mainstream, the industry will be seeking nurse informaticians who can help create consumer-friendly processes to allow patients to submit useful info – and who can assist in developing clear policies regarding what kind of patient-generated data will be received, through which channels, how it will be reviewed, and what kind of responses will be given. Are you a tech-savvy nurse? An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.

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