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Is Anyone Taking mHealth Seriously?

The promise and potential are there, the experts say, but providers aren't eager to change their ways and consumers aren't clamoring for it yet.

By Eric Wicklund

- Maybe consumers aren’t mad enough to want mHealth.

That might explain, in part, why almost 40 percent of consumers in a recent HealthMine survey said they don’t know what telemedicine is – yet 93 percent of the respondents who have used the technology say it has lowered their healthcare costs. Mobile and connected care technology and platforms are working for those who use them, but not enough people are using them.

“At some point we have to get excited enough to be forceful enough to demand it,” says Timothy Smith, a principal at Deloitte Consulting’s Life Sciences and Healthcare section and national leader for the company’s healthcare IT practice.

Consider, says Smith: A consumer can make vacation arrangements online, picking a hotel and a flight – even going right down to picking the seat on a plane, paying baggage fees and printing out boarding passes at home. He or she can make a dinner reservation at a restaurant, cash a check, order a pizza or a taxi, even book a tee time at the local golf course online.

Yet one can’t easily book a doctor’s appointment online, or view data from an electronic health record, or have a small wound, mole or rash checked out quickly and conveniently without a trip to the clinic, doctor’s office or ER.

While those services do exist, they’re not as commonplace as they should be. And while telehealth, telemedicine, digital health, connected care, mHealth and all the other phrases and terms have proven their value to both consumers and providers, 42 percent of the consumers in that recent HealthMine survey said they prefer to see a doctor in person, and almost 30 percent more say they’re not sure when it’s appropriate to use these platforms.

Part of the problem is that ever-popular phrase known as consumer engagement. Consumers by and large are flocking to wearable health and fitness trackers, yet they’re not finding ways to use that information with their doctors – or their doctors aren’t interested in that data.

A January HealthMine survey found that three-quarters of people with known heart disease or risk said their activity tracker was helping them manage their condition, but only 16  percent were actually using them to manage their health. And a MedPanel survey taken last year found that only 15 percent of doctors were even discussing mHealth apps and devices with their patients.

Smith says most consumer-facing wearables are still seen as “gimmicks” by healthcare, and they won’t be accepted until they can be integrated. “They can’t really work alone,” he says.

Smith says the traditional healthcare provider is moving slowly toward mHealth, primarily because the industry as a whole is moving slowly toward value-based care, and that’s where mHealth holds the greatest value. Until that concept takes hold, providers for the most part are going to stick with the familiar, because that’s how their workflows are arranged and that’s how they’re currently getting paid.

And that, says Smith, is why some of the most innovative mHealth concepts are coming from outside the mHealth industry. Banking, retail, hospitality, telecommunications and tech giants like Apple and Google are doing more to advance healthcare at this point than healthcare itself.

Smith does see hope on the horizon. Surveying the state of affairs at the recent HIMSS16 conference and exhibition in Las Vegas, he says healthcare providers are starting to understand that healthcare is becoming more holistic – that social, cultural, environmental and geographic factors can affect someone’s health and should be incorporated into a care plan. That means looking “outside the box,” and breaking down data silos.

It also means shifting from episodic care to bundled payments and value-based care.

“That will push health systems to adopt new technology and make (mHealth) mainstream,” he says. “I, as a healthcare provider, have to know my costs, and I have to adopt technology that will help me reduce those costs.”

Maybe getting a few patients to yell at them might help, too. 


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