What can we learn from lead patients using wearables?

The Dutch Ministery of Public Health advocates an increased focus on e-health, with the aim that more and more people will monitor and manage their healthy lifestyles through using smart technologies. One of the strategic goals is for 75 percent of patients with chronic diseases to use self-measurement technologies as part of their everyday lives within 5 years. To reach this goal, it is necessary to better understand and cater for the needs of these patients. It is important to enable their self-sufficiency, while preventing a mere technology push that would incur unnecessary costs and resistance to usage.

Learning from lead users

STBY worked with patients of chronic diseases like COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and diabetes who are already using available self-measurement technologies to monitor and manage their health. Based on their everyday experiences we can learn about their needs, motivations, preferences and concerns. In their use of technology they are ahead of more average patients, and able to express their struggles and wishes. These insights are very useful for the development of new technologies and service concepts that will also become available for the wider population. Lead users are prone to point out key attributes of emerging technologies and offer inspiration for future improvements.

This project was commissioned by TrendITion, a cooperation between Nictiz and REshape center of Radboud University Medical Center. Their trend reports inform healthcare organisations, care professionals and patients on how to make better use of possibilities offered by new technologies. The aim of our project was to provide more user-driven anecdotal input on the use of self-measurement technology. By showing care professionals and policy developers how lead patients currently use these technologies in their daily lives, and by empatising with their needs and concerns, inspiration for better support and improved services is generated.

Positive impact of self-management technology

We conducted in-depth interviews with patients with chronic diseases, visiting some at their home and others at their rehabilitation centre. We talked about how they manage their health with self-measurement technology as well as the other tools and people that play a role in this. We also discussed the role of their healthcare professional and their attitude towards self-measurement technology.

The stories of the patients were all very impressive; self-measurement technology has a big positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Continuous monitoring of their activities and other measures like glucose and heart rate, combined with feedback on the impact of their activities and diet on these measures, enables patients to learn how to actively manage their health. Their lifestyles have improved enormously, with some patients even leading a healthier lifestyle than they did before they fell ill. Patients found they were taking less medicine and requiring less aid from their healthcare professional. Before they started using the self-measurement technology, they did not expect such dramatically positive results. The self-measurement technology helped them to reach their goals step by step; they avoided making sudden big changes which are often much harder to maintain.

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Healthcare professional as a coach

Through our research we also found that the patients in these situations do not want to be seen as patients, nor do they want a one-size-fits-all approach to their care services. Rather they desire a coach who can help them by understanding their individual needs. They want to take responsibility for their own lives and are willing to do everything they can to stay as healthy as possible. They are well-informed about their illness and about the impact of their lifestyle on their body; they want customised advice from their care professional.

We made a series of short design documentaries, capturing these patients’ stories. In a workshop with professionals in healthcare innovation,  they looked for insights in these lead patients’ stories. Building upon these insights, they looked at opportunities for both the healthcare professionals and their organisations to better support patients who use self-measurement technology.

These stories are a rich source of inspiration, helping to define challenges and identify opportunities for the healthcare sector and to help reach the goals of the Minister of Public Health. TrendITion can use this valuable material to demonstrate to care-related organisations how they can innovate together with their patients.