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How to Use Mobile Health Tools to Better Engage Patients

By Vera Gruessner

- The federal government has been focused on increasing patient engagement with their health and wellness via the objectives from the EHR Incentive Programs, which call for a certain percentage of the patient base to view, download, and transmit their medical information via a patient portal. However, patient portals are not the only way to better engage patients with their medical care. Mobile health tools like fitness trackers have been found to be effective in increasing patient engagement.

Mobile Health Devices

Mark Burrell, vice president of global user experience practice at digital health consultancy Medullan, spoke with mHealthIntelligence.com to provide his perspective on patient engagement with mobile health tools.

mHealthIntelligence.com: “What are some strategies you would suggest to doctors looking to better engage their patients with mobile health tools?”

Mark Burrell: “One thing I would suggest is for doctors to use mobile health applications themselves. By using applications themselves, physicians would be able to see what’s good and bad about them. This strategy would help doctors connect the dots between a mobile application and patients’ actual scenarios. At the end of the day, we need to bring more awareness about mobile health adoption.”

mHealthIntelligence.com: “What are the most popular mHealth apps and devices engaging consumers today and what are their biggest benefits?”

READ MORE: KLAS Report Finds Hospitals Still Aren't Embracing mHealth Apps

Mark Burrell: “One of the biggest benefits of mobile health apps is creating mindfulness – getting people mindful of their behavior. Having a tracking device on my wrist makes me think about how active I am. One of my coworker’s sons got a fitbit and, within days, he became interested in how many steps he was taking and began hiking. We’ve known for a long time, that simply monitoring and tracking our behavior can help to initiate change.” 

“Many applications complement mindfulness with nudges – inviting people to create small behavior changes that can result in a larger impact,” Burrell explained. “While some benefits include mindfulness and nudging, there are limitations. For instance, nudges aren’t always effective and applications often only present data without enabling significant insight into someone’s health.”

mHealthIntelligence.com: “Are some healthcare providers avoiding mobile health tools due to potential security risks? How can the mobile technology industry address patient privacy/security concerns?”

Mark Burrell: “While the mobile health industry is exciting, there are also concerns with privacy and security risks. However, people are generally more accepting of openness and risk from my vantage point.”

“Many mobile health apps are pretty generic and don’t store too much personal information. For some consumer segments however, there is concern about EHR technology. On one hand, EHR promises convenience and better care coordination. On the flip side, there can be uncertainty about what happens to my information, who sees it, what is done with it, etc.”

READ MORE: UK Tries Again With a Library of Certified Mobile Health Apps

“We did some work recently on a health and wellness application in which patients could share their data. We discovered a high level of comfort with sharing data with a coach. We found that actually providing transparency and control over who sees the data and what they see helps on the consumer side of things. On the doctor side, we need systematic assurance that mobile health technologies are HIPAA-compliant and provide a secure system for communicating with patients.”

mHealthIntelligence.com: “What are some typical user or human factors that developers of mobile health tools should consider when creating their products?”

Mark Burrell: “Some factors are general and some specific. At the end of the day, it’s about how applications can help people accomplish their goals. For example, developers should think about not just presenting raw data but in summarizing data in useful ways that enable actionable insight and providing useful tools for people. It’s really crucial in the health and wellness space to focus on people’s actual scenarios and goals.  And of course, developers should be constantly testing and getting feedback about what works and how to make their applications better and more useful.”

“There are tremendous data collection, analysis, and communication capabilities today creating tremendous opportunities. We can now monitor heart rate, physical gait, nutrition, activity, mood, and biomechanics. Developers would benefit from thinking more about how to use this rich data to drive actionable insight.”

mHealthIntelligence.com: “Are there any policy changes you would suggest lawmakers to implement in order to boost patient engagement with mobile health devices?”

READ MORE: mHealth Management Tools Sought by Younger Diabetic Patients

Mark Burrell: “I think one of the challenges is truly integrating all of the data obtained in mHealth devices and applications. Many of the largest electronic health systems are opening up slowly, but right now it is hard to retrieve and creatively use data from these systems. Epic has a large footprint in the market and is only now beginning to enable developers along with consumers to utilize that data. I hope we can create a regulatory environment that not only protects privacy but also enables and empowers consumers to interact with their data in a more flexible way.”

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