“DTx and its role in remote patient monitoring could improve the day-to-day challenges that clinicians face on the wards and in the clinics,” says Elfa Olafsdottir, BSN, RN and Digital Marketing Manager at Sidekick Health. “It’s a win-win for both the patient and the healthcare system.”
You are a Registered Nurse and also work with the Content Marketing Team at Sidekick. How has your work in the hospital informed and influenced your role in digital health?
Apart from anatomical and medical literacy, my biggest advantage is the unique insight into the patient perspective. For example, one of the key roles nurses have within the healthcare system is to be the patient’s advocate — to be their ears and eyes — which gives me a sense of how they think, what’s important to them, and why they behave in certain ways. It’s also the role of the nurse to collaborate with other clinicians to ensure that patients aren’t left with any unanswered questions regarding their treatment or illness. Nurses have to get to know their patients well — their living conditions, family, support system, etc. — to get a better idea of who they are, and to factor these details in when planning their discharge resources for when they leave a hospital setting. This way, the likelihood of them having a relapse lowers and helps them stay on track in their treatment.
This experience not only adds an empathetic lens to my work at Sidekick, but also makes it all the more motivating to drive change and make improvements for patients through digital tech. The experience can also help inform how to get the app into the hands of the people who need it most, and possibly help them live a better life.
From a nurse’s perspective, what’s something you wish more people knew about DTx?
I wish people knew how DTx actually can change patients’ lives for the better. For example, clinical findings show that DTx could have significant positive effects on patient-reported stress and energy levels for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The same is true for potentially improving disease management among patients with Ulcerative Colitis.
I also think that people living with a chronic illness sometimes feel overwhelmed with the logistics of managing their condition, as there are so many things they have to think about. They know these things – just like you and I know that exercising, eating healthy, drinking water, giving yourself space for mindfulness, etc., are all good for us – but getting the extra support and guidance from a DTx via their own phone is invaluable. Not to mention the gamification and behavioral economics elements woven into the Sidekick app that are there to help the user keep on track.
Based on feedback from users, it’s also clear that being able to manage their health in one place — not scattered between a few apps or notebooks — can often help lighten the mental load of managing chronic illness.
How do you foresee DTx (and its role in remote patient monitoring) improving the day-to-day challenges that clinicians face on the wards and in the clinics?
I worked at a heart and lung surgery ward where our discharged patients were given a time slot to an outpatient department that was remotely run from our ward.
If we were able to monitor these patients from the outpatient department with a remote monitoring tool like Sidekick, it could very likely help with preventing readmissions and free up capacity in the ward for patients with worse conditions.
I also believe that it could give the patients who leave our ward an added sense of security — a little extra hand holding — until they find their feet again. It could be a win-win for both the healthcare system and the patients.
Additionally, a DTx could help prioritize clinicians’ time in outpatient clinics. For example, remote patient monitoring can help triage patients who might need immediate assistance. It’s also a great tool to detect worsening conditions.
Another important point to remember: people are very different and subjective in how they evaluate themselves needing medical assistance. In a lot of cases, people wait too long to get assistance, and managing their condition would have been much easier if they had come in sooner, or if their worsening symptoms could have been detected earlier. One case that comes to mind is the cardiology nurse who detected worsening symptoms in one of her patients during a trial period with Sidekick. This is a great example of the capabilities and practical application of remote patient monitoring, and how, in the end, it has the potential to decrease the cases of relapses and readmissions to the hospital.
Finally, the data gathered from a patient using a DTx could also give deeper, more realistic insights into how people manage their illness outside of the hospital setting. For example, a person might tell a healthcare professional one thing, but in reality, they do something completely different. Knowing this nuanced information could help nurses and doctors focus their patient’s education in the right direction and amend their treatment plan to a more personalized one.
Based on your interactions with patients, what qualities make a DTx tool not just good — but great?
Personalized advice is key. People are so different in how they’re motivated in taking care of themselves. Characteristics, background, living conditions, etc. — all of these puzzle pieces make up a person. So being able to offer a tailored service, whether that be via AI technology or connecting them to a healthcare professional, can benefit their condition.
A great DTx should also empower a patient to manage their condition in a practical manner. We can write up different types of personas for each therapeutic area but in the end, we’re as different as we’re many on this earth, and the patient always knows their condition and how to manage it the best. After all, they’re the ones living with it. We can step in and give them tools and guidance based on science and hopefully help them get even better control over their condition, but that’s as far as we can go. From there, it’s up to them.
What does “making an impact” in the healthcare sector look like to you?
When studying nursing, I recognized that the system needed to change, specifically that the focus needed to shift more towards prevention. It felt like the healthcare system was reacting to — instead of fixing — deeply rooted societal problems that were leading to the increase in preventable lifestyle-related diseases. I knew that prevention was a powerful tool, but implementing change to the traditional healthcare system is, of course, easier said than done…
I considered going back to school for my Master’s in Public Health, but instead ended up pursuing a Master’s Degree in Marketing. And it’s actually been a good combination: having the technical skills to reach the right audience but also the deeper understanding of how a patient thinks and how to speak to them. Especially in the world we live in today, where people are so easily “reachable”, I enjoy the challenge of finding the right people with the right message with the right information.
And if I can even help one person change their lifestyle to a better one, maybe resulting in them not having to suffer from a lifestyle related disease or manage their underlying illness – that’s good enough for me. This is what drives me personally to work at Sidekick: the belief that what we are doing here helps someone out there live a better, healthier, longer life.
Who or what was your inspiration to become involved in the healthcare field and why?
There wasn’t one thing in particular that influenced my decision to pursue a career in healthcare, but rather, a collection of different moments. For example, my grandmother is a nurse, and I sometimes tagged along to work with her when she worked at a retirement home, so it was close to home when deciding what to study for my Bachelor’s degree. I also thought it was a sensible education, knowing how the skills and knowledge you get from the studies and the job experience can be used in your everyday life as well. And last but not least, I really enjoy the communications part: working with people.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! Any last bits of advice?
Don’t follow some set “rules” in your career path; study what you’re interested in, no matter how different the fields may seem. You never know what doors it can open for you.