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mHealth: Patient Engagement’s Knight in Shining Armor (Infograph Inside)

July 30, 2013
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Infograph. Click to enlarge.

Take your cell phone out of your pocket, stare at it, and put it back.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of phone it is, whether it was a smartphone, a dumb phone, or a phone that has an average IQ, that little thing is going to change how patients engage with their healthcare provider. Sure, it’s not something I expect to happen overnight, but eventually healthcare organizations are going to realize it’s too sensible to ignore.

This was my main takeaway after writing one-half of the July/August cover story and interviewing healthcare leaders across the country who are using mobile health (mHealth) to engage underserved patient populations. The cover story package, which was released yesterday, also includes a brilliant look at how providers are using mobile devices themselves by my editor-in-chief, Mark Hagland.

Patient engagement is a tricky, important task—both at a regulatory level and at a more, broad literal level. No matter how you define it, whether it’s trying to get them to access their information through a patient portal, learn about their disease with digital education, or simply adhering to a medication, this has become one of the industry’s biggest riddles. When you factor in underserved patient populations, who traditionally are higher at risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, it becomes an even tougher conundrum.  

That’s where mobile enters the picture as the proverbial knight in shining armor.

Yes, mobile can save the day. The Center for Connected Health, a Boston-based non-profit that I interviewed for the story, recently found that mobile devices are better for engaging patients in underserved populations and improving their access and quality of care. The reason being? Well, I’ll let Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Connected Health, explain:

“Mobile can be a gatherer of information, it can be a display tool for information, and it can be a messaging tool. It’s even more dynamic in the underserved population because they have leapfrogged desktop technology and have essentially gone to mobile Internet as their primary source of engagement,” Dr. Kvedar told me.

Here’s another reason: ease-of-use. “The less obtrusive the upload process, the better the level of patient engagement,” Kvedar says. That’s why he and three different Beacon communities ran texting intervention programs; it is a “simple, more ubiquitous form of communication.”

Let’s review: it’s easy to use, it’s everywhere and what underserved patients use in their everyday lives, and finally it can help providers examine their patients with real-time data. That’s what’s being done by Dignity Health, a 42-hospital, multi-state health system based in San Francisco, which is using Asthmapolis in a hospital in Sacramento, an app which monitors asthma patients by hooking a sensor to an everyday inhaler, to transmit how much patients are using, when they’re using it, and when they might be having an asthma attack.

And for the record, when I asked Rich Roth, vice president of innovation at Dignity, why the app was a success thus far, he said…”You use the inhaler as you normally would.” In other words…it’s simple. Weird, I could have sworn I’ve heard that somewhere.

If you still think I’m being sold a river of dreams – take a look at five programs where mobile is used to engage underserved patients around the country. (A higher res version of the infograph can be found in the upper left hand corner.

Once the challenges of mHealth are addressed (which both Mark and I touch upon in our pieces from both a provider and patient perspective), I think this map will look different. It will have a lot more arrows.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave comments below or respond to me on Twitter by following me at @HCI_GPerna.