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Can popular mHealth tool help post-surgical cardiac patients?

By Jennifer Bresnick

You’re probably used to seeing FitBit wristbands around the arms of joggers and cyclists, but you might start seeing them in the recovery wards of hospitals, too.  A new study by the Mayo Clinic, published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, shows that the $99 mHealth tracker could be a cost-effective and useful tool to report the post-surgical physical activities of elderly cardiac patients.  The study shows that the more active patients are after their surgery, the more likely they will be discharged home instead of to an expensive rehabilitation facility or nursing home.

To track their progress, researchers used the off-the-shelf product connected to a provider-viewable dashboard.  Hospitalization and surgery in older patients often leads to a loss of strength, mobility, and functional capacity. We tested the hypothesis that wireless accelerometry could be used to measure mobility during hospital recovery after cardiac surgery,” the study explains.  “Wireless monitoring of mobility after major surgery was easy and practical. There was a significant relationship between the number of steps taken in the early recovery period, length of stay, and dismissal disposition.”

Of the 149 patients involved in the study, there was a clear correlation between the level of mobility after surgery and their post-discharge health.  Patients who went directly home after their recovery period took an average of 675 steps, as counted by the FitBit, while those who required more long-term follow-up care only took around 100 steps.

“Although it is obvious that patients who recover mobility sooner are likely to have better outcomes, it is critical in the face of changing demographics and financial rules that we measure functional measures of recovery for individuals and populations,” the researcher said. “Functional status and variables such as mobility will impact discharge disposition, patient satisfaction, social support required, falls, hospital readmission, and ultimately health care costs.”

Simple tracking tools that remotely monitor patients also may have a positive impact on the growing focus of clinical analytics, the study predicts.  “This type of technology and the data it makes available have tremendous potential. The ability to describe population norms for mobility recovery has implications for individual patients and care process improvement. Once we know the expected mobility, we can early identify pending recovery failure and triggers for interventions. Similarly, the care of populations can be impacted. If we change a plan of care, acquiring mobility data for populations of patients allows us to determine whether the population norms for recovery are altered. Such technology also increases the ease with which data are acquired.”

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