Power to the People: How Smartphones are Changing the Way We Think about Healthcare

smartphones itriageForrester published a report recently titled Mobile is the New Face of Engagement. As the name implies, Forrester found that mobile users of a service are more engaged than non-mobile users of the same service. Forrester followed up the report with a series of blog posts on the subject of mobile, citing some very good examples of mobile driving adoption and usage numbers that were way beyond expectations. The posts are worth reading to see just how far beyond expectation mobile was able to drive user numbers.

Healthcare organizations and vendors should be paying close attention to this Forrester report and other self reported data from consumer companies like Twitter and Facebook.  Twitter and Facebook have users that are motivated, something that is much harder with digital health services for consumers, but the lessons those companies have learned about user engagement can help inform healthcare decision making.  Often mobile health, or mHealth, is cited as a cure to some of our ailing health systems symptoms based on the number of users that have mobile, and increasingly smart, phones. While this is a strong reason to offer health services over mobile devices, this is far from the only reason. More importantly, as Forrester found, mobile is engagement.

As our healthcare system reforms to try to meet the goals of better care and lower costs, patients are being put in the drivers seat, or center, of their own care. For patients to effectively play this role and bring about the changes health reform is calling for, they have to be engaged. Patient engagement is the key to shifting healthcare yet nobody, vendor, payer, or hospital, has created a model for patient engagement that scales and is persistent beyond the early adoption stage.

What is needed are intuitive, patient-centered health services delivered to where patients consume and interact with the world. Mobile is increasing that channel for consumption and interaction. While technology alone is not the answer, technology enabled services, delivered over mobile channels, that improve and extend the current health system, are the keys to successful reform.

Below are a couple of scenarios of how mobile can empower and engage patients to make better health decisions.

Scenario 1: A parent is called in to a school to pick up a sick child. On the way, the parent enters the symptoms from the school nurse into an app on her phone. Based on the results, the mother is provided with a list of providers in her area that can see her child that day. Additionally, she can see quality information about those providers and choose based on physician quality, distance, and wait time to be seen. In the meantime, the app, which hopefully is FDA-approved, can tell her the proper dosage of ibuprofen is for child based on weight. When she sees the doctor, who isn’t her regular pediatrician, she opens another app and gives an accurate vaccination history and allergy information. Before she leaves the doctor, she enters relevant information from the visit, as well as contact info for the provider for future reference. She takes a photo of the treatment instructions with her phone and it gets added as a PDF to the app and her child’s personal health record.

Scenario 2: As a patient is leaving his PCP, he is given a script (yes, we still do paper) for a medication and a referral for an MRI without contrast. Before deciding which pharmacy or specialist to go to, he opens an app and snaps a picture of the script. The app logs the location, transcribes the script, and sends a message back within 2 minutes with a list of prices for the medication both at local retail pharmacies as well as online.  The app, now knowing the medication regimen, offers to remind the patient when the medication is to be taken, improving compliance and reducing the risk of a follow-up visit. Next, he searches for “MRI without contrast” in his zip code using a mobile website and gets a list of facilities, prices, and user reviews. He can then automatically book a slot for certain facilities or click to call others.

Both of these scenarios, and there are countless others, show just how powerful mobile devices and apps can be to empower patients to make health-related decisions. The information patients can potentially have in their pockets puts them at the center of many healthcare decisions. I’m not in anyway advocating for patients using apps or devices to replace doctors, I’m advocating for them to have insights into their health and our health system that can be used to improve outcomes, lower costs, and ultimately result in happier, more engaged patients. In order for patients to use this information, it has to be as convenient as possible, and that means mobile.

travis good itriageTravis Good, MD, MBA, MS, has a unique background that blends technology, clinical medicine, and public health.  After deciding to leave the technology industry and pursue clinical training as an MD, he realized the potential power and lack of adoption of technology in healthcare and medical education.  He subsequently decided to pursue a non-clinical career path, specifically focused on the development of innovative solutions to both empower and inform care, ultimately aimed at reducing the overall cost of care, making life a little easier for providers in the process. He currently acts as Editor of HIStalkMobile, an industry blog with both news and commentary, and speaks on the subject.  Travis has also founded multiple businesses and non-profits focused on healthcare both domestically and internationally.  His current company is a medical education company called Mobicratic. More about Travis Good

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