The mobile health landscape is a difficult place for physicians looking to engage with their patients through text messaging and access to online records. While some patients are eager to use the devices they carry with them every day to improve their healthcare and consult with providers on everything from scheduling flu shots to tracking diabetes, “patient engagement” is a term with a specific meaning in relation to Stage 2 Meaningful Use, and a goal that remains out of reach for many providers.
The second stage of meaningful use requires that at least 5% of patients communicate with their provider via secure messaging or online web portals. Many organizations are investigating mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as the means for patients stay in touch. The process of downloading apps to access medical information is a simple and familiar one to many mobile consumers.
In fact, they’re likely doing it already, with or without official physician-approved software. There are between 20,000 and 30,000 mobile health apps available to consumers, according to Information Week. Some of the more popular ones include exercise trainers, food diaries, medication reminders, or medical dictionaries and diagnosis engines. Apps are available to manage diabetes and hypertension, providing monitoring between clinical visits. While many of these programs are useful for patients interested in a little extra motivation or a social way to keep themselves accountable for their health habits, some unscrupulous developers promise to turn smartphones into a miracle cure for everything from acne to chronic pain to stuttering.
The difficulty many providers are facing is getting those users, who are clearly comfortable with the technology, to engage with applications that help physicians meet meaningful use requirements. A recent study from Pew Internet shows that 53% of US adults own a smartphone, and just over half of smartphone users have looked up medical information online. However, only 9% of cell phone owners indicate that they receive updates from their physicians about health issues.
But that doesn’t necessarily signal a lack of interest among cell phone users. The number of practices with EHR systems that allow direct messaging is still low, and adoption of text messaging technology is slow industry-wide. Physicians need to take advantage of the favorable climate for adding mobile tools to the healthcare arsenal and increase their efforts to direct patients to valuable information about their health while simultaneously helping providers meet government criteria.