Medical workers using tablets

Healthcare Goes Mobile

8 Oct 2014

No matter how dedicated doctors are, no matter how sophisticated their tests and equipment may be, it would all be useless without patient compliance — and compliance is often an issue.

Mobile health technology is designed to ease that hurdle by providing patients with tools like prescription and appointment reminders and access to medical information. These can be especially handy for people managing chronic illnesses; providing remote monitoring products that allow patients to measure health indicators such as blood pressure and glucose levels and then transmit them to their providers right away.

Darrel West, Director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, reports that nearly three-quarters of medical expenditures come from a small number of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma.

Studies have found a correlation between increased patient engagement and hospital cost savings, West said. “People get more serious about their health care when there’s a mobile device monitoring their life signs. It makes them more proactive.”

Clinics and hospitals can also save money through the elimination of repetitive tests.

“If you have good records and there are mobile connections, physicians are less likely to order a test that has already been done. Mobility makes it easier to get access. It lowers barriers to information.”

Mobile access to research also gives doctors the latest information on treatment so they can prescribe according to state-of-the-art standards.

In addition, mobile apps can have a huge impact in rural areas with poor access to clinics and doctors. Health care is harder to come by in these remote areas – not just because of geographical distance, but because fewer physicians choose to practice out there. Mobile technology can mean that fewer visits to providers are necessary.

Mobile health services are currently covered by Medicare and Medicaid, but insurance companies are watching and waiting for the technology to prove its usefulness before reimbursing for it.

Indeed, the jury is still out. A recent study of the use of mobile devices in health care found that after three years, patients’ health improved in only 1 of 11 measures and the technology did not save money. The study was one of the first long-term projects to look at mobile health, and it included 32 primary care practices and six health plans.

One possible reason for that result is that the program did not reward doctors for improved patient health, but only for participating in the system. Also, doctors in the study were not provided information about how their patients were using the devices.

Other studies have found that mobile health applications, sometimes referred to as “telehealth” can improve patients’ health and reduce costs.

Insurance companies may be waiting for more definitive studies, but physicians are increasingly comfortable using mobile health technology, and the sector is expected to experience tremendous growth over the next few years.

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