Mobile healthcare, telemedicine, telehealth, BYOD

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Role of mHealth Devices, Apps in Future Patient Engagement

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- All signs indicate that mobile health (mHealth) has an integral role to play in the efforts of healthcare organizations and providers to succeed at patient engagement.

As the Vice President of the Center for Connected Health at Partners HealthCare Joseph Kvedar, MD, recently told EHRIntelligence.com, effective patient engagement means meeting patients on their terms and working to keep their attention.

"We haven’t yet done that successfully in healthcare — that is a big part of the opportunity, particularly for mobile health, to get into that groove of being engaging," he explains. "We have to turn it around so that we’re delivering health content that is engaging, that you’re interested in reading as much as you’re interested in reading Buzzfeed or whatever else attracts your attention."

In financial investments are any indication, mHealth is rising in important. A report from Mercom Capital Group recorded $4.7 billion in investments in health IT companies of which nearly half of that sum ($2.3 billion) went to developers specializing in mHealth, telehealth, and wearable technologies.

Despite this trend toward mHealth device and application use, healthcare organizations and providers are falling short on meeting the expectations of their patients in this area.

A nationwide survey of more than 400 adults by Technology Advice revealed that close to two-thirds of respondents (60.6%) reported that the availability of digital services play an important role when choosing a physician, but more than one-third (37.4%) reported indicated that their physicians had not offered them one of the six services included in the study. For respondents on the younger end of the age spectrum, close to half reported placing greater importance on smartphone applications than their peers, with nearly half (48.4%) wishing their physicians offered an app.

A failure to meet patient engagement expectations, especially via mHealth, is not the result of provider disinterest, research from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute revealed in late 2014.

In a report on the trop health industry issues of 2015, the institute reported that clinicians are ready to embrace mHealth apps and devices. Nearly three-quarters of clinicians (74%) were comfortable with a mHealth app/device for checking ear infections and more or less comfortable with similar technologies for urinalysis (53% to 47%) and remote monitoring of vital signs (48% to 52%).

The rise of do-it-yourself (DIY) healthcare, however, poses a variety of challenges for healthcare organizations and providers such as health data validation, privacy and security, and reimbursement. Additionally, the use of mHealth devices and apps will require a different approach to care delivery. "Medical culture also will have to shift, engaging informed patients and nudging physicians to relinquish some control in exchange for useful real-time data," the report states.

These market trends and research come at a time when programs such a meaningful use are incentivizing eligible professionals and hospitals to improve their patient engagement activities, requirements that have many  healthcare CIOs concerned.

As part of a CHIME CIO Feature last month, Oconee Regional Medical Center CIO Alan Whitehouse, CHCIO, provided details of his organization's efforts to get patients signed up for its patient portal, one of which included identifying patients staying in the hospital and sending patient representatives to help these individuals sign on using tablets.

"One approach we’ve taken is in our obstetrics unit because when we have patients in there, they’re healthy patients, generally speaking. They’re also younger, so probably engaged with the technology and wanting to be engaged with not only their health but also their new baby’s health," he explains.

It is still early days for robust provider mHealth use, but eventually providers will have to meet patients on their terms or lose out financially.

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