Doctors are already working with patient data from trackers for a couple of years, says Dennis Ballwieser, doctor and Editor-in-Chief of the German health publisher company Wort und Bild Verlag. He estimates the full integration of tracker data into health is yet to come.
How do you think was the role of fitness will change in the medical space in the years to come?
Well, the medical industry or the medical professional lists have learned over the last 20 or 30 years that there's almost no illness that you might think of that is not positively influenced by a fitter patient. So, what we're seeing is that it doesn't matter. If you have an illness that affects your body or your body and your mind, your physical fitness and your ability to do anything with your body influences how you perceive your illness, and how you're able to cope with it. And slowly, this trickles down into the everyday interaction of health professionals with their patients. My guess is that it will influence the daily lives of a lot of patients in the next few years. We will see an overlapping of the two fields, the medical attention given to patients and the self attention of patients to their physical fitness.
You're not only Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief right now, but also a doctor. In your experience in the last couple of years, how do you see the fitness technology coming into the health space?
I think what we are seeing is a time when the health professional, people working in the hospitals and physician's offices, learn how to deal with patients who come to their office with their own devices. The relationship between doctors, especially, and patients has always been that the doctor has all the knowledge and the patients are either receiving that information that they need or not. And doctors have to learn how to deal with patients who have lots of power, because they now have data, and they have information how to use that data.
They make it very clear that they expect they're the professionals who care for their health are able to use that data that they bring to them. I think what we're seeing here is a process of the professionals to cope with that and to learn a new role. There was a very influential book a few years back, I think it was by a cardiologist from the United States - the title of the book is “The Patient Will See You Now”. It sums up what happened over the last years and what's still happening now.
Can you remember one case in your own practice where the patient was an informed, tech aware patient and expecting the same from you?
Yeah, even in my time in the University Hospital here in Munich when I was working as an anesthetist. I was seeing them in preparation for operations, and I was caring for them in an intensive care unit. 2016 was the last time I saw a patient in the hospital, and even back then patients came to the appointment before the operation prepared with their own data from the earliest Apple watches or from fitness documentation from their training at home to show me how they were capable of doing things in their normal life and how they prepare for the operation. So even back then it was already a topic, and I think it's advanced a lot in the last seven years.
Wow, that's a lot. So what do you think is currently the best wearable for patient doctor engagement?
I would say right now, many of the Smartwatches are a very interesting thing both for the patient and for the doctor who cares for them. They present the data in a very relatable format. They are easy to wear around the clock. The data that is valuable to me, as a physician, is long term data that is not only registered during special events but also during times when the patient isn’t aware data is being recorded. Smartwatches as well as things like a Fitbit. It doesn't have to be a watch necessarily, but something that you have around your wrist all day long, all night long, and you don't even care about it.
So what you’re saying is that there are also things like smart rings and glucose monitoring devices, but normal tracking will be enough?
I would expect that this type of device is what most patients would feel comfortable with. I would like to know more about aggregated, anonymized data from many patients. To learn more about new patterns that doctors and scientists can discover from this data. So that is why I prefer common, household devices, that are familiar to most people who might be able and willing to use them.
What are the three most important data points for you, as a doctor, that a patient should bring track with their wearable devices?
Right now, I would be most interested in heart rate combined with the context of what the patient was doing at that time. Have you been moving? Have you been biking, walking, running? Some data on the oxygen content of your blood would be amazing as well.
So, heart rate and heart rate variability combined with activity tracking and oxygen saturation?
Right. But of course that is driven by my knowledge about what those devices are able to do today. So far, the further the device industry advances, my interest in special data would develop as well.
Do you think there's sometimes too much data?
There's almost always too much data, because data is never something that should or could replace a good talk with your patient. You will, you always learn more from listening to your patient, then from looking at his or her data. And that is something that never changes. No matter how much data we are able to accumulate.
How do you see the role of fitness technology in the healthcare space in the years to come?
I think the fitness technology will be fully integrated into normal health care systems all around the industrialized world. It will completely change the way health professionals deal with their patients. What is most important is that doctors care for patients who bring their own data to them, and that health professionals deal with those patients in a very open way. That is expectations today and definitely into the future.