New Study Finds Link Between mHealth Wearables, Medication Adherence

A digital health tracking company is making the link between consumer-facing activity trackers and clinical outcomes with an mHealth study that says wearables can help those with chronic conditions improve medication management.

The study, conducted by Evidation Health and based on claims filed through Humana, is the latest to attempt to cross the bridge between activity trackers and clinical care. It could give healthcare providers food for thought as they look for ways to improve patient engagement and care management through remote patient monitoring channels.

“This study demonstrates that individuals who engage in activity tracking have significantly higher medication adherence than those who do not track their activities when controlling for age and sex across thousands of people with diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia,” the report, recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, concluded. “The results were typically not dependent on a specific condition or activity tracked. The positive association with medication adherence extended to frequency of activity tracking as well as to physical activity level, as measured by step count.”

“Given the well-established link between poor medication adherence and increased health care costs and utilization, as well as mortality, improving medication adherence in chronic conditions continues to be a high-value objective,” the researchers added. “This study is the first step in developing a better understanding of how to use digital health tools to understand and drive medication adherence and subsequently lower the cost of managing chronic diseases.”

The study was conducted by Luca Foschini, PhD, Jessie Juusola, PhD, and Tom Quisel, all of San Mateo, Calif.-based Evidation Health, and Susan Zbikowski, PhD, a former director of wellness science and analytics at Humana who now runs her own consulting business. It drew on medical and pharmacy claims from roughly 8,500 members living with diabetes, dyslipidemia, or hypertension managed by the Louisville-based insurer who use activity trackers like Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone and Apple products.

According to the researchers, people using activity trackers were more compliant with medication adherence than those who weren’t using mobile health tools. And medication management improved as those people tracked their activity more frequently.

“It’s encouraging to see this strong relationship between activity tracking and medication adherence as the health care system seeks to improve health outcomes and lower costs,” Juusola, the study’s principal investigator and Evidation Health’s senior director of health outcomes research, said in a corresponding press release. “This signals that everyday behavior data from activity tracking may be a useful tool for identifying individuals who could benefit from medication adherence programs.”

Healthcare providers have long sought to tap into the popularity of consumer-facing wearables to aid in clinical treatment, but have shied away from using them as decision support tools because the data coming from them often isn’t accurate.

That being said, health systems like Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have seen success using Fitbits and other devices to collaborate with patients and reinforce care management outside the hospital or doctor’s office.

“We’re harnessing the power of lifestyle,” says Jennifer Ligibel, MD, an oncologist at Dana Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers and lead investigator of the BWEL (Breast Cancer Weight Loss) trial, which uses Fitbits to track activity and sleep patterns in women recovering from breast cancer. “We’re gathering experiences in the moment” that will help researchers understand what participants go through every day and night.

With their study, Juusola and her colleagues are aiming to prove that mHealth wearables can be used in remote care management progHrams to improve medication adherence, thereby reducing healthcare costs tied to poor management and improving clinical outcomes and lifestyles.

“Adopters of digital health activity trackers tend to be more adherent to hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia medications, and adherence increases with tracking frequency,” they wrote. “This suggests that there may be value in examining new ways to further promote medication adherence through programs that incentivize health tracking and leveraging insights derived from connected devices to improve health outcomes.”

Originally published in mHealth Intelligence by Eric Wicklund on April 18, 2019