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One third of patients want mHealth interactions with docs

By Jennifer Bresnick

Smartphone and tablet owners are ready and willing to use their devices to connect with their physicians, says a new poll by Harris Interactive and HealthDay, but the demand is outpacing the number of providers equipped to handle mHealth communications.  While many patients already use mobile devices to send messages or download information through online portals, tech-savvy users are also interested in tracking and uploading health metrics or receiving a diagnosis through telehealth services right on their iPhones.

Of the 2,050 adults surveyed in the poll, 37% were interested in the ability to ask questions and book appointments online, a capability that is becoming increasingly widespread as Stage 2 of meaningful use approaches with its patient engagement requirements.  Reminders to re-fill prescriptions and take medications were also popular on the wish list, and 35% wanted to add the ability to receive results of diagnostic tests, too.

Among the patients interested in using their devices as a movable doctor’s office, 38% wanted to be able to check their blood pressure with a mobile device, 34% wanted to use a diet or exercise tracking application, and 32% were interested in photographing body parts to diagnose a problem by sending the picture along to a qualified provider.

While the interest is strong among patients of all age groups, including senior citizens, the infrastructure on the provider side is still somewhat lacking.  There are few incentives to develop apps and portals to allow patients to communicate online, and physicians are already funneling the bulk of their health IT budgets into mandated initiatives like meaningful use and ICD-10.  “In this country,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll, “most doctors and hospitals have little or no incentives to provide [mHealth capabilities]. They are unlikely to offer them until it is in their interest to do so.”

Another concern is patient privacy.  Respondents were split on their confidence in the secure handling of their medical information, with 47% indicating they were “somewhat confident” about the privacy of their data, and 40% not very or not at all confident.  It’s a valid concern, says Titus Schleyer, head of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, based at Indiana University-Purdue University.  But hackers would likely be more interested in credit card numbers or social security information than blood glucose levels or pictures of diaper rash, he points out.

mHealth has a lot of promise to improve healthcare, Schleyer says, by increasing convenience while cutting costs and educating patients about their health.  “But right now, none of this is mature yet. This poll shows us that the public is interested in using these apps.  But the health-care system has to make it easier for them to do it.”

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