How Mobile Health Will Change Patient Provider Relationships

ACHE Consultants Forum

Healthcare Consultants Forum Online Newsletter – Quarter 4, 2015

Feature Article: How Mobile Health Will Change Patient Provider Relationships

John R. Patrick, DHA
Attitude LLC
Palm Coast, Fla.

Consumers are taking more responsibility for their health and seeking to collaborate with their physicians. Mobile health apps and devices, in combination with cloud computing, will play a major role in empowering consumers. Mobile devices that support health (otherwise known as mHealth) provide that empowerment through personal supercomputers—the smartphones we carry in our pocket or purse have the power of supercomputers. Although some providers are not comfortable with consumer technologies designed for self-diagnosis, such technologies will lead to a new model of collaboration between patients and physicians—and, if adopted by providers, could potentially enhance customer satisfaction.

Part of the shift in consumer attitudes on healthcare involves collecting data related to consumers’ health. People are finding that tracking one’s health is a good tool for improving it. For example, more than half of Americans track weight, diet or exercise. Innovators are developing new mHealth apps and devices at a frenetic pace, and consumers have a healthy attitude about adopting them. According to industry estimates cited by the FDA, 500 million smartphone users worldwide will be using a healthcare application this year alone, and by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users, including healthcare professionals, consumers and patients, will have downloaded mobile health applications. As consumers adopt mHealth devices, they will gravitate toward nontraditional providers that will be performing tests at a much lower cost than in traditional laboratories.

Key Questions for Healthcare Consultants to Consider

Providers need assistance in answering key questions and developing a strategy to ensure mHealth has a positive influence on their future. Some will choose to be leaders in mHealth; others will choose to be fast followers; and some will be more cautious, but all providers need to understand mHealth and its implications. Here are some key questions consultants can help answer:

  • How can mHealth be used to reduce the cost of care for chronic illness?
  • How can lost revenue be minimized as a result of diagnostic tests consumers perform on their own?
  • How should a communications plan be designed to put up a red flag of caution urging consumers to take the data they gather to their physician before making conclusions about what treatment may be needed?
  • How can mHealth data be incorporated in a population health strategy?
  • Should the EHR be integrated with mHealth apps and devices (including wearable tech such as FitBits and the Apple Watch)?

The term regulation is unfavorable to many technology innovators, who fear bureaucrats will inhibit introducing new ideas to the tech field. When it comes to healthcare, regulation is a different story. The FDA sees the widespread adoption and use of mobile technologies as a way to improve health and healthcare service delivery; the agency has approved more than 150 healthcare-related apps and devices connected to smart devices, enabling a consumer-led healthcare revolution.

Following is a sample of recent developments in mHealth technology:

  • AliveCor has a heart monitor that attaches to the back of an iPhone; it creates a 30-second EKG.
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has integrated consumer data with the hospital’s electronic health record system for more than 80,000 patients. As part of the program, cardiac data will flow from the Apple Watch to the iPhone Apple Health database to the EHR database.
  • CellScope, who is working to develop a smartphone-enabled tool kit, created the Oto Clinic, which turns an iPhone into an ear-inspecting otoscope. A simple picture of a child’s ear canal can be used to diagnose ear infections.
  • A team of engineers at Cornell University developed a smartphone camera attachment. With this attachment, a consumer extracts a single drop of blood onto a strip and then takes a photo of the strip. Then, in a matter of seconds, the device performs a colorimetric analysis displaying the user’s cholesterol level.
  • Propeller, a mobile platform that focuses on respiratory health management, created a smart inhaler that helps consumers keep track of their daily symptoms, triggers and use of medications and records the time and place they used it. The inhaler syncs with a smartphone’s Bluetooth technology. The FDA approved the Propeller inhaler for asthma sufferers.
  • A San Diego startup named Cue has developed a compact, consumer-oriented device that can detect five biological conditions at a molecular level, including inflammation, vitamin D, fertility, influenza and testosterone.
  • Kinsa, a company working to provide healthcare products consumers can use in their home, created the first FDA-approved, app-enabled thermometer. The thin and flexible device plugs into the audio jack of an iPhone or Android smartphone and tracks illnesses from beginning to end, alerting consumers when symptoms are serious enough to warrant seeing a doctor.
  • Otoharmonics—a group of scientists, clinicians, business professionals and patients dedicated to providing more comfortable, personalized tinnitus care—developed an mHealth app that uses a combination of apps to help treat the disease.
  • Illumina, which creates technology and tools to use in the genetic research field, has mapped out a vision for a consumer genomics product. The company believes it can build a DNA chip to plug into a smart device, bringing genetic medicine into the world of consumer mHealth.
  • Ralph Lauren is taking the lead in wearable mHealth technology with a new Polo Tech T-shirt. The shirts are interwoven with a set of sensors that are in close proximity to the body. The sensors can track heart rate, breathing rate, breathing depth, activity intensity, steps walked, calories burned and heart rate variability.

The Internet has empowered consumers for more than 20 years. It’s no wonder the healthcare industry is aligning itself with this empowerment, using apps to monitor their health and thus improving patient-physician relationships. Although implementation is slow, we know the use of mHealth services will accelerate—self-monitoring and self-diagnosis are here to stay. As such, an effective strategy to embrace mHealth needs to be a top priority for all healthcare consultants and providers.

John R. Patrick, DHA, is the author of Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare. He can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter at @johnrpatrick.