Mobile health devices are steadily showing themselves as an emerging method of increasing patient engagement, and due to their popularity amongst users, may be the next big thing in the healthcare industry.
In fact, recent research shows that patients are overwhelmingly in favor of using mHealth devices. In a study performed by Research Now, nearly 72 percent of patients reported that they believe that mHealth devices will encourage patients to make better health decisions and take charge of their healthcare.
Two of the most effective devices for patient engagement are remote patient monitoring devices and mHealth devices for secure messaging. Between their ability to connect with chronically ill patients who need to take special attention to their health, to the way they enable providers to reconnect with patients as follow-ups, mHealth tools are paving the way into the future for patient engagement.
Early intervention for chronically ill patients
One of the most commonly cited benefits to remote monitoring tools is the effect that it has on chronically ill patients and patients in high-risk populations.
When chronically ill patients are connect to remote patient monitoring tools, they are able to keep track of their own health, as well as connect with their providers regarding any specific concerns. This has had an a notably positive effect on the care of these patients, specifically because providers are better able to intervene in health issues early on.
For instance, in an investigation of remote monitoring tools by HIMSS member and registered nurse Deborah Greenwood, PhD, RN, BC-ADM, CDE, FAADE, diabetes patients were able to better adjust their healthcare when connected with remote glucose monitoring devices.
The devices were able to collect data regarding each individual’s glucose levels, and present the data to the patient in easy-to-read charts, thus teaching them about how to analyze their levels.
Nurses were also able to intervene when a patient’s condition called for it. At that point, nurses would meet with the patient via direct message and either discuss lifestyle changes or adjustments to the patient’s medication.
The benefits of the remote monitoring went even further. These provider meetings helped patients understand better understand their illness and treatment options, making them feel empowered in their care.
“The frequent discussion, virtual messaging and remote care increased the ability for patients to engage with nurses to increase their knowledge about diabetes management and begin to feel empowered in their ability to make decisions and self-manage their disease,” Greenwood wrote.
Engaging the patient remotely in follow-up care
There are several other kinds of mHealth apps that have positive effects on patient engagement beside remote monitoring tools. For example, messaging systems are quite useful in engaging in follow-up patient care.
By prompting patients to take part in certain follow-up care, specifically maintaining a proper medication schedule, mHealth apps can enhance the quality of a patient’s follow-up care.
At the end of this year, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) received a grant to test programs that could increase medication adherence via mHealth apps. This $1 million grant would help the university to investigate new mHealth approaches to maintaining medication adherence.
"We know it's asking a lot to expect the patient to stay on track with their medications," John McGillicuddy, MD, who’s leading the study, told News-Medical.net. "Unfortunately, we also know medication non-adherence and the resulting uncontrolled hypertension are predominant risk factors for premature graft rejection, graft loss and death. With this study, we're looking at ways to keep patients on schedule with a computer automated monitoring system using mobile technology to improve patient outcomes."
Sharp Rees Stealy Medical Group has also seen great success in engaging recently-discharged patients via mHealth apps. As a part of their Welcome Home Program, a 90-day program where patients receive secure messages regarding their follow-up care, the medical group saw that patient engagement over an mHealth app helped guide their patients.
However, in order to make these engagement strategies work, one must know about the patient populations with which they are working. For example, Sharp Rees Stealy’s director of population health management Janet Appel, RN, MSN, says that the health group became successful after refining the frequency with which they communicated with their patients.
After some trial and error, the team at Sharp Rees Stealy determined what would work best for their patients.
“There are many different ways that you can take a program like this and implement it,” Appel shared. “We worked with them to figure out what they wanted.”
Going forward, it seems as though mHealth apps will only get more advanced, creating more opportunities for patient engagement. However, as made evident in Sharp Rees Stealy’s case, it will remain important for providers to understand the populations with whom they’re working in order to make the use of these technologies most effective.