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Understanding the patient landscape is key to mHealth adoption

By Jennifer Bresnick

Healthcare organizations need to have a thorough grasp of the patient and regulatory landscapes in order to encourage effective and engaging mHealth adoption, according to a report by Deloitte.  When considering integrating mobile health tools into the care continuum, providers should consider four key areas: demographics, local infrastructure, disease dynamics, and the regulatory reimbursement environment before moving ahead.

Demographics

As smartphone and tablet adoption spread to more than half of the US adult population, the underlying platform for mHealth use is increasingly embedded into the daily lives of many patients.  Health tracking applications are especially popular among younger patients, the report says, with 19% of “millennials” already using an mHealth app as compared to just 10% of older adults.

But as smartphones start to reach elderly patients with complex ongoing needs, the potential to expand the mobile health as a tool for chronic disease management is ever more apparent. “Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), in particular, are expected to combine an interest in technology with substantial purchasing power to generate the fastest year-on-year growth in smartphone penetration in 2014,” the report notes. “This may present both a challenge and an opportunity to carriers and health providers to engage this group in mHealth-oriented technologies and behavior.”

Local infrastructure

Even though smartphone use is widespread, the technical infrastructure supporting broadband and 4G network capabilities is still weak across many rural geographical areas. “Telemedicine technologies offer access solutions for rural and underserved areas; however, many of these areas have broadband limitations,” the report explains. “Physicians with small practices in remote areas have been identified as a key group limited by broadband gaps that render them unable to effectively use mHealth technologies in an environment ideal for mHealth.”

Providers should consider the availability of high-speed internet within a patient’s home, local library, or workplace before assigning mHealth apps as part of a care routine.

Regulatory and reimbursement issues

As reimbursement structures move towards rewarding providers for quality outcomes, mHealth has been seen as a vital tool to ensure that patients are adhering to medications, have access to expert resources, and are keeping track of their own health in between office visits.  But many payers do not yet have regulations to govern payments for these activities, leaving providers to negotiate the financial aspect of the mobile health world on their own.

Additionally, increasing scrutiny from the FDA on the subject of medical device regulation, as well as concerns about HIPAA compliance, patient privacy, and network security, may stall mHealth plans until legal requirements are understood and met.

Disease dynamics

mHealth is a powerful chronic disease management tool for many patients, but every condition requires a unique approach.  A single patient may have diabetes, depression, and heart disease, but she may not wish to juggle three separate apps that all ask for the same basic information about her well-being.  Wearable devices that passively collect data may be part of the solution, and gamification of health tracking could relieve the burden of other aspects of disease management.

“As healthcare shifts towards a patient-centered and value-based delivery model, rapidly developing mHealth capabilities will likely enhance its role as a valuable partner in the transformation,” the study concludes. “Essential to the success of this partnership, of course, is the willingness of key stakeholders (consumers and providers) to embrace mHealth.”

 

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