mHealth and the Closing Window for Patient Engagement

80% of physicians are using mobile technology to provide patient care. Meanwhile, more than 25% of commercially-insured patients use mobile apps to manage their health. mHealth adoption is also being fueled by the 30 million wearable health devices that were shipped last year, a 37% increase over 2011. And the modern smartphone is less than six years old. The modern tablet is less than three years old.


Patients are Engaging, but not with Health Systems

To some, these statistics may not seem shocking. After all, mobile technologies are driving change across virtually all industries. What is shocking is that most health systems have been caught flat-footed by the mHealth revolution. Most of the apps physicians use are not provided through a healthcare organization's IT department. Moreover, just 13% of healthcare organizations are planning to offer their patients a branded app this year. If patient engagement is the cornerstone of healthcare's future, and mobile devices are the primary vehicles for engagement, then how can healthcare organizations afford not to engage patients with a mobile offering?


mHealth Benefits to Patients

In the HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey, released on December 3, 2012, the top ways that mobile benefits patients are:

  • Pharmacy Management (i.e. medication reminders, medication reconciliation)
  • Care Continuum (i.e. remote patient monitoring, post-acute readmissions)
  • Resource Utilization (i.e. access to supplies, medication utilization, marketing)
  • Preventative Support Care  (i.e. wellness management, disease surveillance)

The reality is that improving health outcomes involves changing patient behavior: taking medications, attending follow-up appointments, adhering to a diet and exercise plan.  These are areas where mobile technologies are naturally strong. Mobile apps and devices are becoming part of modern care plans. Healthcare providers that ignore patient-facing mobile solutions will become less relevant to patients. Providers that execute a proper mobile strategy will not only profit from healthcare reform, but also will build an engaged population -- an increasingly important asset in a world that is moving quickly towards accountable care


Mobile Health ROI Part 1: Readmissions

Mobile Health ROI Part 2: HCAHPS & Value-Based Purchasing

Mobile Health ROI Part 3: Patient Loyalty

Mobile Health and Medicine Reconciliation




Mobile Pull vs. EHR Push

What about physicians? That 4 of 5 physicians are using mobile technology to care for patients is staggering when contrasted with the slow adoption of EHRs.  Technophobic docs have slowed EHR adoption, right? Wrong. The mobile phenomenon strongly challenges that idea. After 30+ years of lackluster adoption, EHR uptake took a step forward only after a set of structured incentives and penalties were handed down from CMS. Mobile health adoption has required no such incentives.

For many docs, EHR is a dirty word: office efficiency decreases and the patient experience suffers. If you've ever been in an exam room while a physician attempts to balance a laptop on her lap and hunts and pecks through a clunky EHR interface, you understand why so few providers love their EHRs.  

Physicians are using mobile applications not because of an IT mandate from the health system, but because they choose to use them. The use cases are not surprising. Physicians are using apps to look up patient information and clinical reference material while interacting with patients. Much like the age-old clipboard, smartphones and tablets can be used bedside without creating the awkward physical barrier presented by laptops and rolling workstations. 


The Bottom Line

The rapid rate of mobile health adoption reflects the convenience and utility inherent in mobile apps and devices. Health systems have an opportunity to meet patients where they are increasingly turning for health management: mobile devices. This is patient engagement at its most powerful. Engaged patients will increasingly drive a health system's success. Today that means HCAHPS and readmissions. Tomorrow that means population health and ACOs. Smart health systems understand that and are investing in mobile. For others, the window will eventually close and their patients will turn elsewhere for health management.