Study findings show that clinical labs and pathology groups have opportunity to add value for consumers who actively monitor their health information
There is the opportunity for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups to build closer relationships with consumers by improving the access consumers have to their medical laboratory test data. A majority of Americans are now tracking health indicators, according to a recently published study.
Americans are becoming more self-aware and are assuming responsibility for their own health status. Those are findings from a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Projects. This study found that more than two-thirds (69%) of U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or a loved one, which has changed their overall approach to health.
Majority of Americans Track and Record Their Health Stats
In the Pew survey, the majority of consumers (60%) say they track their own weight, diet or exercise routine. A third of them (33%) track indicators or symptoms of disease, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns. Some 12% also track indicators or symptoms for a loved one.
More than half of all survey participants (51%) do this in an organized way, either by keeping a written account of health data in a journal or notebook or using some form of technology to record data, such as a spreadsheet, website, app or other device, noted survey analysts. The remaining 49% say they keep track “in their heads.”
At a time when high-deductible health plans are making consumers more conscious about the price of healthcare services, these findings provide useful evidence that clinical laboratories can build closer relationships with their patients by making it easier to access medical laboratory test data and monitor cumulative lab test results. Only a minority of consumers, however, are using high-tech gadgets to track their health status.
With the proliferation of fitness tracking devices and other high-tech gadgets, the researchers were a little surprised that only 21% of survey participants reported using technology to track their health status. “We found good old pencil and paper was pretty dominant,” said Susannah Fox, Associate Director of Digital Strategy at Pew Research, said in a report published by Mashable.com.
She noted that technology is not currently playing a big role in this activity. “That presents a challenge to tech developers who might want to convert these people who are not using technology,” Fox added.
People With a Chronic Disease Are Diligent Trackers
The Pew survey also indicated that people living with chronic conditions are significantly more likely to track health indicators. Further, the likelihood of them engaging in this activity is increased if more than one chronic condition is present. This creates an opportunity for clinical laboratories to create specialized services that allow people with these conditions to track their laboratory data in the context of their other health information.
People with chronic conditions also are more likely to keep a written log of the data, noted Fox, adding, “It’s interesting to note that people in this group have chronic conditions like diabetes, that require tracking.” The statistics are impressive:
- 19% of adults with no chronic condition track health indicators and symptoms.
- 40% of adults with one chronic condition are trackers.
- 62% of adults with two conditions are trackers.
This group of consumers with chronic conditions is also is more likely than other trackers to update their records regularly and share their notes with someone else, usually a clinician, noted survey analysts.
People With Chronic Conditions Say Tracking Affects Their Healthcare
Those individuals living with multiple conditions are particularly diligent in their tracking efforts. They are likely to report that tracking has had a positive impact on their health. Caregivers and trackers who had experienced a significant health change recently also are more likely than other groups to report a positive impact from monitoring health indicators and symptoms. Additionally, trackers who keep a formal record of health data also are more likely to report an impact, observed the survey analysts.
- 46% say this activity changed their approach to their health or the health of a loved one.
- 40% of trackers say tracking has led them to ask a doctor new questions or get a second opinion.
- 34% of trackers say this activity has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.
These revelations provide clinical researchers a benchmark for measuring future progress in patient health accountability, suggested Fox, in a press release issued by Pew. She also pointed out, “The explosion of mobile devices means that more Americans have an opportunity to start tracking health data in an organized way. But will they be enticed to adopt new habits? And will they integrate that data into their conversations with clinicians?” Fox speculated.
Clinical Laboratories Have Opportunity to Lead Digital Tracking Revolution
This information also should be of keen interest to pathologists and clinical laboratories, who are keepers of much useful heath data. It presents them with an opportunity to provide a value-added service for health consumers, thereby building patient and physician loyalty.
Clinical laboratories might consider gearing up their technological capabilities to meet the needs of the 21% of tech-savvy consumers who currently track their health data electronically, possibly by providing mobile apps or other emerging technologies to expand recordkeeping options.
To entice the other 78% to move into the digital realm, medical laboratories might consider developing a web-based service that makes it easier for those individuals. After all, currently these are the people who either keep an account of health data in their heads or write it down on paper. A web-based service would help these people to keep a more accurate record of their health status in a digital environment.
This is first national study to measure health data tracking by health consumers. It surveyed 3,014 adults nationwide. The study was conducted by Pew in conjunction with Princeton Survey Research Associates and funding from the California HealthCare Foundation.
– Patricia Kirk