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How Mobile Technology is Changing Healthcare

Over the last three to five years, mobile technology in healthcare - often referred to as mHealth - has rapidly proliferated. From mobile phones and tablets, to smart watches and other devices that connect patients to remote monitoring, mHealth is helping to solve communication, access, and clinical data collection problems in a myriad of ways. Some of the positive results of mobile technology include improved patient engagement and adherence to treatment plans, better outcomes, and increased patient satisfaction.

A primary reason mHealth has grown so rapidly is the adoption rate of mobile devices in the US. According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of Americans now own a cell phone of some kind, and 81% of these are smartphones.

Here are just a few of the specific ways that mobile technology is being used in healthcare by clinicians and patients:

Patients with an acute condition - sore throat, earache, rash, etc. - can connect and be treated by a telehealth physician, 24/7, from home, using an app on their tablet or mobile device.

Moms are reminded of their child’s pediatric check-up by text messaging. They can securely confirm the appointment on their mobile devices as well as pay the visit copay or a past account balance directly from their device.

Care managers and nurses use telehealth apps to conduct virtual visits with patients who have chronic conditions. These visits are a more efficient and effective way to stay on top of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and CHF, as well as to review and adjust medications.

Surgeons can follow their patients’ progress post-operatively by “prescribing” a mobile app that sends patients pre- and post-operative questions. Such apps ask patients to check-in at defined intervals, and sends the information back to the clinic for provider review.

Wearables such as smartwatches and other devices can track and analyze everything from a person’s daily steps or miles run to blood pressure, weight, and heart rate. The data are sent back to the patient’s primary care physician or another clinician to monitor.

All of these examples were nearly unheard of just ten years ago. But mobile technology in healthcare and mHealth apps have paved the way for clinicians and patients to communicate quickly, share data, and manage healing and wellness in new and convenient ways. In fact, it’s now commonplace to see physicians securely text messaging patients from their iPhone, or updating a patient’s electronic health records on a tablet after seeing the patient in the clinic.

Why This Matters

The move from paper-based medical records to technologies such as electronic health records and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems was a big step forward for consolidating and centralizing clinical information. But these technologies were initially only used by healthcare professionals. The rapid move toward mobile technology in healthcare has fueled three big changes that the first wave of healthcare digitization couldn’t.

Using mHealth technologies:

  1. Patients are engaged in their own care. mHealth puts power in the hands of patients, who can collect, review, analyze, and act on health and wellness data in ways that previously weren’t possible. What started as the “quantified self” movement - patients using mobile devices and wearables to track their own fitness and health data - has evolved to become a method to monitor conditions and care for patients.
  2. Clinicians can efficiently reach patients outside the exam room. For decades, the only way to know how patients were doing after they left the clinic or hospital was to call them on the phone. It was highly inefficient and not effective for collecting data. mHealth apps automatically send education, transmit clinical questionnaires, collect biometric data discreetly, and communicate information back to a provider or health system, and alert clinicians when something goes awry. Although we’ve still to address “alert fatigue” and data overwhelm, the fact that the data can be collected so quickly and easily is a huge step toward better patient care and outcomes.
  3. The patient’s ‘care ecosystem’ can connect, communicate, and share. Mobile technology enables everyone who is participating in a patient’s care to access important information. This ecosystem can include the patient, family members, caregivers, physical therapists, home health nurses, behavioral health specialists, etc. Although the available data varies by app and interoperability issues, many mHealth apps have created platforms that give the entire care team a way to communicate to support the patient.

Essential in Value-Based Care

The use of mobile healthcare technologies will become an essential element for health systems and provider organizations that participate in risk-sharing agreements and bundled care initiatives. Under these new reimbursement models, providers are incented to collaborate across specialty and facility lines and to care for the patient as a team. Success means not only improved patient outcomes, but also lower costs that result from reducing unneeded interventions, achieving therapeutic goals, managing medications appropriately, and reducing hospital length of stay and readmission rates.

For example, Charleston Area Medical Center used an mHealth platform to reduce readmissions among its COPD patients by 22%, and its CHF patients by nearly 30%. The platform integrates with the health system’s TVs and sends personalized education to patients in their hospital rooms. The education push continues on mobile devices after discharge. Because the platform is integrated with the electronic health record,  patients get educational material that’s customized to their condition. The content includes videos and quizzes to improve comprehension and retention. In addition to reduced readmissions for specific conditions, the health system also saw an increase in patient engagement and satisfaction rates after implementation.

It’s use cases like these that are driving health systems and provider organizations to invest in mobile technologies. In a risk-sharing environment, mHealth platforms that keep people well and out of the hospital are a key component of managing costs and outcomes.

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