One of the more significant shifts during the last several years of healthcare reform has been the emphasis of the patient as an engaged stakeholder. By treating patients like equal members of a care team, physicians can help people with chronic conditions better manage their symptoms in between visits. In an ideal medical industry, this would also reduce the prevalence of preventable adverse health events.
However, engaging the modern patient also requires borrowing some insight from the marketing world. Consumers, especially millennials, use mobile technology to consume much of their marketing and educational materials. Moreover, traditional methods of promotional advertising are not likely to have much of an effect on the more discerning and skeptical mind of the contemporary patient - providers instead need to craft compelling messaging that resonates with their intended audiences.
If providers want to remain competitive in the hearts and minds of their patients, communicating over the mobile health medium is a necessity for any patient-centric medical practice. But how can small practices achieve meaningful progress in the cloud and elsewhere to satisfy theirs and their patients' needs?
What does mobile health look like?
Smartphones are ubiquitous today, and tablets, netbooks, wearable devices and other ground-breaking technologies are making their own ground on market share. According to GreatCall, there are approximately 97,000 consumer-facing health and fitness apps available across several popular platforms. In fact, it is estimated that by 2017, 50 percent of all smartphone uses will have at least one health or fitness app downloaded on their devices - this will push the overall market valuation up to $26 billion.
This incredible reach and steady growth is why Healthcare IT News explained patient-facing mobile health apps could be leveraged by clinicians to guide individuals while they are outside of the hospital or practice. For example, if a particular procedure or examination calls for a patient to fast for 24 hours, physicians can check on his or her status through data entered into the app. Gentle reminders via text or in-app notifications can also serve as effective ways to keep patients on track even when they are miles away. Essentially, this is acting like a miniature electronic health record with two-way access.
Push the boundaries
Consumer-facing health and fitness apps certainly hold the promise to add keen insight into how patients respond to pre-procedural instructions, but this would yield likely only a small result in the overall scheme of things. To achieve that kind of progress, Judy Hanover, research director at IDC Health Insights, told EHR Intelligence that, practices might have to think outside the box.
"There is an innovation gap in acute care EHR," Hanover told the source. We have just been so focused on meeting meaningful use requirements that we have not taken time to innovate. We have not looked for flexible, innovative software. I can see the potential for technology to really impact and improve operational efficiency and the quality of care."
Hanover pointed to clinical examples where hospital staff might be required to perform regular checkups on patients but find themselves with too many other tasks to complete every one. In this case, mobile health through personal or provider-supplied devices can allow nurses and physicians to access the EHR of a patient who has just left surgery.
Healthcare IT News explained that some patients need be monitored for abnormal insulin levels after invasive surgeries, sometimes as frequently as every 15 minutes. This can conflict with other clinical duties, but mobile health can allow these medical professionals to access real-time data remotely. Some systems even allow the usage of triggered alerts - if a patient's insulin levels drop below a predetermined mark, the EHR system can be programmed to sent texts or calls to the involved physicians' devices.
Customize and personalize
While patients might benefit from incredible diversity in health and fitness apps, providers have not yet enjoyed such a radical breadth of options to choose from. However, Hanover told EHR Intelligence that specialists might be able to leverage app development to create patient-facing EHR-like portals that connect them directly to the people they need to talk to.
"The [cloud-based] platform approach brings different apps into the healthcare environment," Hanover explained. "Dermatology might be using a different app to enter data into their system than cardiology is but they are writing their data to the same platform that's available for analytics. Also, a lot of productivity issues could be eased by mobile functionality as well as real-time interactive decision support."
In fact, many physicians have already thrown their lots in with mobile health. According to GreatCall, 40 percent of physicians think that mobile EHR software can decrease the number of visits to their offices by preventing unnecessary examinations. Already, 80 percent of physicians have begun to use mobile health apps regularly.
On top of everything else, mobile health is a lucrative business. There are more than 4 million free health-related mobile transactions made every day, which could mean millions of dollars in ad revenue. Additionally, 300,000 paid transactions occur daily.
Mobile health can be difficult to implement for small practices alone, but partnering with an experienced vendor can be the final effort that pushes providers over the mobile health hump.