Guest post by Charlotte Hovet, MD, MMM, and Joseph Kim, MD, MPH.
Remember a few years ago, when online shopping was first getting started, and everyone used words like “e-tailer” to refer to companies that sold stuff on line? When was the last time you heard that used? It has become an anachronism, because almost every company is now an e-tailer. And “online shopping” has become merely shopping, because no one thinks twice about buying via the Internet.
The phrase mobile health will soon be headed for extinction in the same way as “e-tailer” because it is becoming a routine way to consult your medical practitioner. Over the next couple of years, it will become a major force in healthcare, and in five years no one will think twice about using remote communications to get medical help. We predict there will soon come a time when young people will wrinkle their noses and ask “Really? You had to drive to the doctor’s office, and sit in a waiting room and infect a bunch of other people just to get some Tamiflu? That’s insane!”
Both public and private health plans are rapidly adding coverage for e-visits. Not only are they cheaper, they are also more effective for some types of care and consumers greatly appreciate this trend. While the baby boom generation may still have some holdouts who don’t like mobile communications, the majority of people across all age groups have not only adopted mobile technology, they’ve melded with it.
So the question for physicians and hospitals is not whether to adopt e-visits and mobile technology, but how to use them most effectively.
We co-hosted a webinar on the topic recently, in which we looked at mobile technology from the perspective of patients and caregivers. Both sets of stakeholders have a shared need: simplicity and ease of use. Merely making an application or function mobile isn’t enough. How mobility is integrated and used makes a big difference in the value derived.
During the webinar, we polled attendees on which mobility trends will have the biggest impact in the coming year:
- 47 percent think a greater use of digital communication between patients and healthcare providers will have the biggest impact.
- 5 percent voted for Telehealth replacing more in-person visits with healthcare providers
- While 14.7 percent see increased use of medical-grade disease management mobile apps and growing adoption of health/fitness wearable devices and apps by consumers.
Their answers aligned with the 2015 research done by MedData Group Physician Adoption and Predictions of Mobile in 2015, which also noted reasons for physician adoption of mobile health:
- Improved quality and continuity of care (42 percent)
- Time efficiency (41 percent)
- Improved communications with patients (37 percent)
- Cost efficiency (23 percent)
- Patient demand (22 percent)
We think those answers underplay the importance of patient demand and leave off a very important driver of mobile technology: widespread payer adoption of reimbursement for telehealth visits.
Where mobile makes a difference
Mobile technology is a natural fit for population health initiatives. Simple changes, such as good food, better sleep and more exercise can have a remarkable influence on the overall health of a population. Consumer mobile technology, such as smartphone apps, wearable activity/sleep monitors and online food diaries can help individuals in their efforts to improve health. For those with serious chronic disease (or high risk for disease), medical grade remote monitoring devices, combined with frequent telehealth coaching sessions, are proving to be effective in helping patients better understand their disease and take greater responsibility for their health. This has proven especially effective at preventing readmission within 30 days, which is very important to hospitals. Medicare has levied widespread fines for hospitals with high readmission rates, and a cost-effective tool for lowering those rates will be widely adopted.
Patient communications can be simplified
Digital communication, including secure email and text messages, will greatly simplify communications between patients and caregivers. Outgoing messages can be automated to remind patients to take medications and show up for appointments. Inbound messages can provide a convenient way for patients to ask a question without having to sit on hold or wait for a callback from caregivers. A physician or other caregiver can send a quick message or ask an assistant to send one, greatly simplifying communication for both patient and caregiver.
Physician collaboration and specialist consultations can be enhanced
Another area where mobile technology can make a big difference is making use of specialized knowledge. With mobile access to medical data, physicians can collaborate more easily, learning from each other and seeking help from those with specialized knowledge. In areas where specialists are scarce, patients can use telehealth to consult remote experts. This will allow specialized resources to be used far more efficiently and broadly. It will also improve the overall knowledge base of medical personnel, who can learn continuously from these interactions.
A good example of this collaboration capability is a Virtual Concussion Clinic operated by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In the project, coaches on the football field can consult with neurologists at the medical center in real time using telehealth to screen players for possible concussion.