- Between mHealth’s ability to connect patients and providers in disparate locations, track patient wellness, and monitor symptoms for chronic illness, mobile apps and devices are disrupting the way patients stay connected to their health and their providers outside of the doctor’s office.
But that doesn’t mean that physicians feel the same way. mHealth brings about changes to how several providers were trained in medicine, and present new challenges in workflow, data collection, and patient communication.
Because patients and providers interact with mHealth apps differently, it is natural that they may perceive the technologies differently. But is patient satisfaction with mHealth apps higher? Do they feel more engaged using these tools?
Patients like using mHealth tools
Overall, patients do appear to enjoy using mHealth tools. In a Markovsky/Kelton survey conducted last year, researchers found that two in three patients would use mHealth apps to better their own health.
The most popular mHealth apps included wellness and health management tools like fitness trackers, diet and nutrition apps, symptom trackers, and medication reminder apps.
Another survey conducted by Salesforce found that 60 percent of Millennials would prefer to conduct telehealth visits with their doctors, and would like their doctors to use mHealth apps. Millennials also expressed interest in online appointment booking, online bill payments, and online reviews from other patients.
Considering Millennials are native adopters of all types of technology, it is natural to think they would be more willing to adopt health technology than their older counterparts. In fact, the Markovsky/Kelton study shows that patients age 66 and older are half as likely to use an mHealth app as Millennial patients.
However, other research indicates the contrary.
Earlier this year, researchers published the Senior Health and Technology Survey results, showing that older patients are interested in using health technology to monitor their health. Over 90 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had some kind of health-related goal, and if given the proper tools, they may feel more empowered to achieve it.
A majority of the patients stated that they were comfortable with mHealth helping them achieve that goal, with 80 percent reporting that technology was already an everyday part of their lives, and 56 percent saying that were willing to use mHealth technology to better their health.
Physicians have mixed opinions on mHealth
Although patients – particularly younger ones – have near-ubiquitous positive opinions on mHealth, providers appear to be more conflicted.
Some providers see mHealth as a great tool to reach patient populations with different needs.
Steve Willey, MD, created his app YouPlus Health to help doctors reach all kinds of patients outside of the office. In an interview with mHealthIntelligence.com, the doctor explained that mHealth apps have the power to reach patients and coach them through all of their health needs.
“Getting people to understand they need to make changes in their lifestyle (to live healthier lives) is the easy part,” he says. “The hardest part is getting them to actually do it. Obviously, what we’re doing now isn’t working.”
What might work, he says, is carefully utilizing mHealth apps.
Other doctors have more reservations. In a June 2015 study by Quantia, Inc., researchers found that only one in five providers prescribe an mHealth app as a part of their patient’s treatment plan. Much of this is due to the fact that mHealth apps haven’t been on the market for long, and therefore don’t have an extensive background that guarantees success.
“When a prescription drug goes generic, it has at least 7 years of data about its effectiveness and safety, which gives physicians assurance that patients can use it for self-care. Medical apps have no history of either effectiveness or safety,” said Quantia’s Editor-in-chief Mike Paskavitz.
There is certainly some credibility in those apprehensions. Recent data shows that not all mHealth apps are entirely effective in improving patient wellness, with some not fully engaging the patient or providing her with adequate information to make substantial wellness gains.
However, healthcare is in the midst of a transition to a patient-centered model, taking into consideration foremost the needs and wants of the patient, ensuring that they are fully involved in their healthcare.
These models put an emphasis on keeping the patient healthy and reducing large (and potentially costly) care episodes. To be successful in these models, providers need to monitor their patients to mitigate health needs at an early stage.
Experts say that mHealth apps enable opportune timing for preventative care and patient engagement. In an interview with mHealthIntelligence.com, Tom Giannulli, MD, said that patient-centered care models are “all based on the idea of doing the right thing at the right time.”
To that end, hesitant providers will need to warm up to the idea of mHealth as a key patient engagement and care tool.
“Continuous care relies on mHealth,” Giannulli said.
To account for some negative provider perceptions of mHealth patient engagement, hospital leaders need to demonstrate to providers how these tools will help them in the long-run. Through ample education to create provider buy-in, along with research to discover the safest and most effective apps, providers can begin to see benefits with mHealth and meet the needs of their patients.