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New Study Gives mHealth High Marks in Children’s Health

An analysis of dozens of mHealth projects finds that digital health platforms offered through a smartphone can improve health outcomes and engagement with children, especially if their parents/caregivers and doctors are collaborating with them.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- An analysis of dozens of mHealth studies has found that mHealth interventions can help children live healthier lifestyles.

The analysis, appearing in JAMA Pediatrics, finds that parents and caregivers can improve healthcare outcomes and behaviors for children under 18 when they use an mHealth app or text messaging. Those improvements are even more noticeable when the digital health platform is used as a collaboration tool between parents, children and healthcare providers.

"Findings … indicate that mHealth interventions are a promising and potentially effective route for pediatric health care providers to use with patients and their family members," lead author David A. Fedete, PhD, of the Department of Clinical & Health Psychology at the University of Florida, told ScienceDaily.

For the analysis, Fedete led a team of researchers who pored over the results of 37 mHealth studies affecting almost 30,000 patients. They found that mHealth interventions can be helpful in keeping the lines of communication open between doctor and parent/caregiver and in pushing healthy behaviors and interventions that might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked.

"It's worth using, and there [are] a lot of different media that can be used," added Christopher Cushing, an assistant professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Kansas and co-author of the study. "mHealth interventions can be as simple as text messages and as complicated as a dedicated app. You can go small and send text messages for vaccine reminders or build an app that allows for diet and physical activity tracking."

For those with young children, Cushing said parents or caregivers “could opt into a scheduling program that would allow them to see those things that are due for the child like a vaccination,” while those with older children should allow them “to take on some autonomy such as engaging with an app where they can set goals and get feedback.”

“But the parent should be engaged in that system so they can use teachable moments,” he concluded. “If a child isn't sure about why they're not meeting goals, a parent can use adult problem-solving to help find an answer."

The analysis highlights the interactive nature of mHealth interventions, in that providers are not only using the platform to push out information and advice but to work with parents, caregivers and patients on an appropriate care management plan. And it dovetails with several studies suggesting that patient engagement and long-term sustainability works when the patient is an active participant in the care plan.

In an interview last year, Jocelyn Sivalingham, MD, FACP, a medical director for West Health’s Health Advocate business who deals with chronic treatment plans, said patients often see those treatment plans as something forced on them.

“To the patient, it’s an external force imposing a rigid set of rules on a person – and usually that won’t work,” she said. “What it should be about is a focus on patient-centeredness and collaboration.”

And the best tool to support collaboration, say researchers, is the smartphone.

"With an overwhelming percentage of individuals owning or having access to a mobile phone, mHealth interventions can have greater reach than in-person interventions," Fedele told ScienceDaily. "Furthermore, mHealth programs can collect dynamic health-related data and deliver intervention content to individuals in their natural environment, outside of a clinical encounter, at key times that have a higher likelihood of modifying behavior. An example could be collecting data on percentage of time an individual has spent in sedentary activity and then delivering an individually tailored message to their mobile device promoting them to engage in some sort of physical activity."


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