Each day, there are more mobile phones sold around the world than the number of babies that are born. Google receives more search queries from mobile devices than ever before, and the market for independently developed applications continues to balloon to astronomical proportions. Research conducted by Milward Brown across 30 countries found that people spend nearly two-and-a-half hours each day using their smartphones.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that mobile technology is playing a bigger role in the healthcare industry in 2017 and creating new opportunities for physicians to change the ways they provide care, monitor patients, and more.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the most important trends in the mobile health care revolution. New apps, wearable devices, GPS location services, and our increased capacity for communication and connectedness across great distances are all playing a role in expanding the ways physicians engage with their patients, despite the reality of diminishing health care budgets faced by many countries.
Wellness Apps Used to Monitor Health
Health and Wellness mobile apps is an industry with annual revenues of over $25bn, with over 100,000 mobile apps related to health and fitness currently available and sharing a total of four million downloads every single day. Consumer wellness applications fall into a few different categories:
- Physical Fitness or Training – Physical Fitness apps are often integrated with social media, or have a social aspect built into them. For example, users of the popular running application MapMyRun can use their phone’s built-in GPS to track their distance traveled, elevation changes, speed, and time of each workout, then share that information with friends through the app itself or integration with Facebook. MapMyRun can allow physicians and care providers to monitor the health activities of patients in a fun and engaging way - doctors may even choose to participate in sharing their own exercise habits, empowering patients through structural motivation and setting a positive example.
- Self-measurement – Pregnancy tracking applications provide expectant mothers with guidelines and updates for their pregnancy that they might normally receive from a doctor. Fertility tracking applications can also help women monitor their cycles and determine the best time to try for a pregnancy. The availability of apps that offer health information is a double-edge sword for the healthcare industry - they may be consulted beneficially, but patients, to their detriment, may use apps like these instead of seeing a physician.
- Health Information – Mobile apps that offer health information are a valuable resource for consumers who might normally visit a doctor for health tips or recommendations. Apps that offer nutritional information on foods or calorie estimates for various workouts are popular for folks trying to proactively diet and exercise for health benefits. Doctors can now recommend third-party apps where patients follow exercise and nutrition tips that have been assessed for quality and safety by the patient’s caregiver.
- Self-testing – Calorie monitoring apps are especially popular right now, especially MyFitnessPal, which contains caloric information for everything you could imagine wanting to eat. Other self-testing apps monitor heart rate with the help of wearable devices or store daily information like weight or blood glucose content. These applications are a boon for the healthcare industry. Physicians can have patients use these apps to record their diet and exercise habits, helping with diagnostics and other facets of patient care. This could be useful in bariatrics, at weight loss clinics, or at family health practices.
Medical Apps Streamline Tasks for Physicians
Physicians can also take advantage of mobile apps that are designed to streamline their daily activities. Mobile apps can be used as supplements to equipment, with advancement in sensors and more patient data helping physicians to identify potential health issues at an earlier stage. Mobile devices can also be used to quickly access patient information, which can then be shared with others involved in the care of the patient.
The ready exchange of patient information isn’t the only thing benefitting patients though – physicians can now prescribe wearable monitoring devices to their patients that can be tracked via the physician’s mobile device. Remote patient monitoring and the collection of patient-generated health data in real time through mobile devices allow physicians to track patient wellness in new ways and respond to abnormalities or crises in record time.
App-Enabled Patient Portals Facilitate Patient-Provider Engagement and Reduce Costs
App-enabled patient portals offer a more convenient way for patients and medical offices to communicate, streamlining health care administration and allocating saved resources to elevated patient care. App-based portals facilitate patient engagement by enabling health care providers to interact with patients on their terms – no phone calls necessary. Here are some types of patient engagement that you can create by implementing a patient portal at your hospital or healthcare practice:
- Communication – Patients can send instant updates of their condition or progress, or ask questions of physicians outside of appointments or regular clinic hours.
- Review – Patients could securely view their lab or image results, or download their medical histories, without having to visit the hospital or make a special request.
- Booking – Allowing patients to set, modify, cancel, or reschedule appointments through a web portal can alleviate the workloads of support staff at your practice and is a major convenience for your patients.
- Sharing – What if your patients could upload new health information for review by their care providers, including home testing results, diet and exercise records, notes, and more? Home testing and results-sharing with follow-up from their doctor is a great way for patients to get quicker answers when something’s not right.
- Requests – Patients can request a referral to a specialist, or indicate the need for a prescription refill, from the comfort of their homes. This feature reduces the number of patients who visit your office, helping you reduce the spread of communicable diseases and save on costs while still delivering the services that patients need.
- Transactions – Patients can view outstanding bills, update payment or insurance information, initiate claims, or pay their portion of medical bills.
Many doctors are already communicating with patients through SMS, either by maintaining open lines of communication through text message, or by using SMS as the primary means of communication for appointment reminders, service updates, and other notices. Still, app-enabled patient portals that run through mobile devices offer plenty of new opportunities for engagement that streamline physician-patient interactions and can help your practice run more smoothly.
Location Services Effectively Augment Patient Care
Health care providers are using mobile GPS and location services to better communicate with and inform patients, especially in the hospital setting. Location-based content delivery is at the cutting edge of technological advancement, with services like iBeacon that enable hospitals to send push notifications to physicians and patients based on their location.
For example, when a patient walks into an emergency room, they can receive a push notification reminding them to wash their hands with the provided disinfectant wash, put on a protective surgical mask if they are presenting with cold or flu symptoms, and join the line to speak to the triage nurse. Patients and physicians can receive customized, and even personalized information and instructions based on where they are in the hospital.
Telehealth Services Connect Patients with Care Providers in New Ways
Telemedicine may be the most important part of the mobile revolution in health care, especially when we think about enhancing patient outcomes. For many people who live far away from hospitals, or from the specialists they need, telemedicine provides an avenue for them to receive consultation, diagnostics, and treatment information from doctors that could be hundreds of miles away.
Telemedicine also improves access to health care providers for seniors, new mothers, non-drivers and virtually any group of people that might find it cumbersome to travel for a medical appointment. Meeting with a physician is being transformed from a hassle to a convenient video conversation on a mobile phone.
Increased Preventive Care a Boon for Insurance Providers
Any discussion of the mobile revolution in health care should address insurance providers as one of the most important stakeholders in our healthcare system. When health care costs are reduced by innovations in mobile technology, insurance companies make more money and can reduce premiums for all of us. In addition, consumer-focused mobile applications have proved a boon to preventive medicine – more people are effectively managing their own health, resulting in fewer hospital visits and fewer costly payouts for insurance companies.
The utilization of mobile technology in health care is producing incredible benefits for patients, their health care providers, and our system as a whole. In the coming years, innovations that promote preventive care and reduce healthcare costs will continue to gain prominence throughout the global health system. We also expect that the huge volumes of patient data collected through health care monitoring apps and wearables will play a key role in developing new diagnostic methods and treatments in the future.