When patients are hospitalized, doctors track their blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen level and half a dozen other metrics.

Some hospitals do a better job than others of using this data to arrive at real-time medical insights, but at least the information is available. When patients leave the hospital, however, their doctors often receive no new information until a follow-up appointment weeks later — and after that, perhaps, not until an annual checkup.

With the advent of personal health trackers and apps, this is set to change. Already, individuals track and store information about their physical activity, sleep, pulse and even eating habits. For the most part, clinicians have not yet found a way to incorporate this data into their practice, but they should start preparing to do so now. If healthcare organizations wait for the market to sort out how these programs will be paid for, it will likely take them a minimum of a year to gain any level of competency — a delay that not only will create a competitive disadvantage for lagging organizations, but could also produce sub-optimal patient outcomes.

Real-Time Insight into Patient Behavior

Part of the reason that data-driven care will become so important in the coming years is that many acute conditions (such as heart attacks and kidney failure) are brought on by chronic conditions (such as obesity and type 2 diabetes). These conditions are all heavily influenced by patient behavior.

If clinicians can see in real time when patients engage in activities that could lead to negative health outcomes, they can reach out to offer interventions (such as meal and exercise plans) that might prevent problems before they occur. Nonclinical patient data could also help to optimize care; for example, information from air quality sensors and respiratory devices could help inform medication dosages for patients with asthma or allergies and prevent unnecessary hospitalization.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services authorized payments to physicians of up to $60 per month for the evaluation of patient data. That’s obviously not enough, on its own, to make it worthwhile for clinicians to completely upend their care delivery models; however, shows that the industry is set to become more data-driven in the coming years. Other financial models that emphasize overall patient health (as opposed to simple fee-for-service payments) are a natural fit for care models that incorporate patient data to optimize preventive care.

To start, clinicians should segment their patient populations and determine which patients are likely to see the greatest benefit from data-driven interventions. Healthcare organizations then can start small pilot programs that will help them learn how to best integrate external patient data with clinical systems. As these use cases become more prevalent, organizations will be well positioned to expand their programs and better serve more patients.

By incorporating patient data into their care models, clinicians will not only improve health outcomes, but also likely develop more intimate relationships with patients. Once a provider starts delivering personalized, preventive care, patients won’t want to go anywhere else.

Learn more about how CDW solutions and services can help your healthcare organization leverage wearables, apps and trackers for patient care.