Does automation sacrifice patient empowerment?

By Brian Dolan
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Brian DolanWireless biometric sensors, connected health devices, mobile phones and online portals hold the promise of automating the management of chronic diseases. Some service providers, however, aim to do no such thing.

If you truly automate the process of measuring a patient's blood pressure, for example, do you miss the key opportunity to engage that patient in their care regimen? If a chronic condition is automatically monitored wirelessly from a smart bandaid, will the patient have a convenient way to review that information or does the automation itself remove the ideal window for the patient's review?

Zume Life founder Rajiv Mehta thinks automation does just that. We cannot remove the patient from this process, Mehta told mobihealthnews during a reception at the Wireless Life-Sciences Alliance here in La Jolla, California. If a patient is experiencing abnormal biometrics, like a higher A1c, then the service should give them a chance to explain why they think that may be, Mehta explained.

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Others disagree that automation sacrifices patient empowerment and discourage having patients manually entering biometric data at all costs.

Scripps Health's Dr. Eric Topol, who is also Chief Medical Officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, agrees that wireless health services need to get the biometric data in front of the patient to encourage patient empowerment, but "we don't want to rely on individuals to manually enter anything," Topol told mobihealthnews in a recent interview, "because it just doesn't get done efficiently."

That said, sometimes automation is really the best and only choice -- a person monitoring sleep apnea can't very well manually enter apnea episodes, because they are sleeping, Topol noted.

DiabetesMine's Amy Tenderich pointed the audience at the Health 2.0 event in Boston last month to another benefit of automation -- a wireless health service that is completely automated does not remind a person (all throughout the day, in some cases) that they have a chronic disease. Automation may allows them to focus on other aspects of their daily lives while ensuring that the data is still being captured for review later.

Clearly the balance between automation of data collection and ensuring patient engagement is a tension that the wireless health industry will continue to prod and tweak. What do you think -- is automation always key? Is the point of data capture really the best time to engage users?