March 27, 2019
central massachusetts health

Technology: Making connections for better health

Carolyn Langer

While some of us invite change into our lives with open arms, others prefer to keep things as they have been. Regardless of which camp you're in, you've no doubt noticed how much technology has changed the way we think about maintaining and improving health. It's common now to have a smartphone app to help you lose weight. Or log in to a web portal to see your doctor's message about test results.

Whether technology brings a new approach or replaces a paper-based system, it's being used to support health and well-being in a multitude of ways.

Activity trackers and exercise apps

Wearable devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches have more people than ever tracking their daily steps, activity levels, workouts, heart rates and sleep patterns. These data can help them make changes to our everyday lives, resulting in greater productivity and better health.

For example, some devices link directly to apps for losing weight or maintaining a healthy diet. Faithful users can become more conscious of food choices, promote good habits and reach nutrition goals. Alerts remind users to stand up and walk around, breathe deeply for a few minutes or take a lunchtime walk to prevent them from becoming too sedentary.

Support networks

Dealing with serious health issues – whether your own or someone else's – can make the most optimistic among us feel isolated or even depressed. Finding others with similar experiences can make a difference, and those connections can be forged online.

Online camaraderie can help while dieting, dealing with a rare disease or looking for others with the same condition. There are Facebook groups, blogs, websites and advocacy groups. Online resources can help with launching in-person support groups.

Awareness of health conditions

The vast amount of health information on the internet can be overwhelming. While many of the health resources are reputable and accurate, many are not. I recommend people speak directly to their medical providers. For those doing independent research, it's important to find websites from established institutions and organizations, and to ensure authors are associated with reputable organizations or are otherwise qualified to discuss the topic.

Electronic medical records

Even routine medical appointments have a different feel these days, with the clinician most likely typing notes into a computer during the visit. Electronic records make health status and treatment plans

accessible throughout a physician or hospital network. Secure online patient portals make personal test results and records accessible and allow messaging between doctor and patient, so at least some questions can be answered more easily and quickly.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine provides remote access to medical professionals. It's especially helpful if you can't see your primary care provider or want to avoid an unnecessary emergency room visit. A telehealth service enables you to talk with a doctor while at work or home. Fallon Health members are covered for telemedicine and report high satisfaction when using the service. While telemedicine doesn't replace the need for a PCP, it's another way of providing access to care quickly and conveniently.

Where to start

The wide range of resources and technology can be quite overwhelming. Whether seeking recommendations about reputable sources of information, support networks, or digital technologies, consider speaking directly to your medical providers.

Ready for change

These examples show the powerful influence new technology has had on health and how much it can contribute to well-being. As additional technologies appear on the horizon, here at Fallon Health we plan to embrace them and learn how they can be used to continue to create positive change and better health for us all.

Carolyn Langer, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., is senior vice president and chief medical officer at Fallon Health.

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