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The Latest mHealth Deals Driving Patient Engagement Efforts

Between fitness trackers and communication tools, the latest mHealth technologies are helping to improve patient engagement strategies.

By Sara Heath

mHealth is a growing phenomenon in the healthcare industry, perhaps because it serves patients where it is easiest for them. Because they are convenient, mHealth tools are well-suited for patient engagement strategies.

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Studies show that mHealth tools are effective for helping to improve communications between patients and providers, which in turn aids the formation of stronger relationships. When patients and providers have better relationships, they are able to more candidly discuss symptoms and work more effectively to improve health.

When patients use mHealth tools to independently monitor their health, they likewise become more engaged. mHealth devices help patients manage chronic diseases and seek help when necessary.

As a relatively new trend on the healthcare scene, mHealth is constantly innovating. Between new digital communications strategies and methods for patient data collection, healthcare organizations have access to several new mHealth collaborations. Below is a round-up of some of the latest industry mHealth deals.

Fitbit helps drive patient-generated health data

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Fitbit is a fitness tracker that has long been on the mHealth scene. By tracking a patient’s physical activity, the tool helps them measure their level of health and fitness. However, many healthcare professionals have sometimes viewed Fitbits skeptically.

In an effort to improve that perception, Fitbit has partnered with research institutions like Johns Hopkins University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of California San Francisco to use Fitbit data to boost patient engagement in research studies.

The platform, called Fitabase, will work to motivate research subjects, as well as drive improved patient-centered care methods.

“Supporting the research community is critical to our efforts as we continue to grow as a digital health company,” Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit Group Health, said in a press release.

“Fitbit has always been focused on empowering people to lead healthier, more active lives through data and insights. Fitabase has helped make our mission a reality with researchers by allowing them to better engage study participants, collect more objective data, and ultimately, develop new interventions that may positively influence patient care.”

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Representatives from UCSF say that this opportunity is likely to motivate more patients to participate in studies. By providing an easy-to-use activity tracker, the partnership is helping to improve participant satisfaction.

“My patients told me very clearly that, if they were going to wear a device, it had to be easy to wear, easy to use, and offer information they cared about in an accessible fashion,” Jennifer Lai, MD, a general and transplant hepatologist at UCSF.

“I have found that providing patients with health trackers can be a motivating factor – and sometimes the deciding factor – for deciding to participate or not. We are hoping that a name brand device will encourage people to join and engage in the study.”

Integrating Fitbit into research methodologies is also an excellent way to collect patient-generated health data. This kind of data is useful for providers and researchers alike because it presents an authentic view of patient health habits.

Cedars-Sinai adds two new digital health tools

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Health systems are also using mHealth to improve communications. At Cedars-Sinai, hospital leaders are implementing a patient-provider communications tool and a family communications tool.

The patient-provider communication tool, WELL, helps patients text message with front-end office staff. This helps patients gain quick access to their providers and receive answers to any pressing health concerns.

The technology also provides logistical support for patients, helping to disseminate information about appointment scheduling, care directives, and paperwork.

The health system has also adopted a technology called Grace which helps facilitate better communications between providers and family caregivers about end-of-life care.

Forging better communications methods not only helps boost care outcomes, but it helps improve patient satisfaction. Patients prefer convenient communication methods, and through these messaging platforms, patients gain easier access to their providers and other front-end staff.

Apps provide language translation services

In order for communication between patients and providers to be effective, it is vital that they speak the same language. While many hospitals have on-site translational services for patients who speak Spanish or Arabic, resources are more limited for other languages like Russian or Greek.

At Chicago-based Advocate Health Care, providers have an easy mHealth solution to that conundrum. Through an iPad app, providers can use video translation services to communicate with their patients in a variety of native tongues.

The technology sets up a video chat with a translator who can help facilitate discussion so patients and providers can easily discuss the health issue at hand.

This technology moves beyond improving care outcomes. When a patient is able to communicate with her provider regardless of language barriers, it improves satisfaction.

“It’s amazing, seeing their eyes light up when you have an interpreter right there (on the mobile device) that they can talk to face-to-face,” says Carolyn Hager, MBA, JD, CPHRM, Advocate Health’s director of language services, who uses two different video remote interpreting platforms to provide services in 24 different languages. “Sometimes people don’t understand how important that can be.”

Ultimately, mHealth tools are about breaking down the walls that keep patients and providers from fully engaging with one another. By making communications or disease management more convenient, these tools help drive patients to be more active in their health. While that participation will likely drive outcomes, the benefits can stretch far beyond that.

When healthcare becomes less complicated – whether that be due to the convenience of a text message conversation or data collection on a Fitbit – it reduces patient stress and increases satisfaction.

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