By Christopher Kart
Mobile communication (mHealth) continues to drastically alter how you and your patients interact. It is empowering patients to take control of their own healthcare by giving them access to health records and both medical and billing information.
The end result is an empowered consumer, notes Richard (Rick) Kimball Jr., founder and CEO of HExL, a population health management company based in San Francisco, Calif. focused on enabling independent primary care physicians for value based reimbursement.
A mobile device could be used in a number of ways that would drive a positive patient experience, notes Kimball, who launched HExL to help independent primary care physicians transition to new outcomes-based healthcare system through population health management.
A consumer who is knowledgeable about health risks, current conditions and medications, and understands the active steps that are needed to improve health and therefore reduce the costs to the healthcare system.
On the primary care physician side, Kimball says that reimbursement is spurring greater growth in mHealth. There have been many studies showing the efficiency of telemedicine and virtual house calls. When clinicians can be reimbursed for alternative care delivery, then they will demand more sophisticated technology to support their work from home, when they are traveling and away from their office. Others benefit as well—payors save on critical care costs, drug manufacturers can stabilize revenues and the healthcare system experiences less drain on the economy and overall costs.
This could be something as simple as an SMS message informing them about an upcoming appointment or doctor wait times to something more complex where a wearable medical device communicates with the PCP keeping them updated on customers’ vitals. Irregularities would prompt a nurse from the PCP practice to call the patient to make sure everything is alright, similar to security firms getting a signal from a security alarm system.
Smartphones are already being used to access healthcare from trusted resources like WebMD for self-triage purposes. When using the Internet, information can be confirmed by reading two or three sources and medical blogs can help you learn from other people’s experiences and gives you a sense that you are not alone dealing with your particular set of medical issues.
Since mobile technologies are having a profound impact on the way healthcare information is consumed, it is also impacting the business processes which provide this information.
It is no longer enough for a medical practice to look at systems in their traditional silos. Mobile-based systems can cut across multiple systems to provide information which is contextual, uses aggregated patterns and insights from disparate data, uses social information in the form of demographics and behavior patterns, and provides unified content.
Kimball believes that the healthcare industry is on the cusp of this revolution and the mobile way of thinking will change a lot of things. mHealth and home-based care will be indispensable to the healthcare systems of the future. They will enable caregivers to provide better service and information to patients, improve their internal working, and coordinate better among themselves.
As a result, medical practices will need to transform how they do business, Kimball states. Patients are seeking alternatives now so they can save money, have better access to a physician on their terms, reduce visits to a medical office and stay abreast of the latest healthcare updates for their specific medical issues.
Since mobile phones and mobile apps have become a part of your patient’s daily lives, there are several activities in a medical practice that could be streamlined using mobile technology and result in positive patient experience.
Here are some examples:
- Patients can access their personal information and electronic health records (EHR) through a mobile app. Although privacy concerns are often raised, practices need to get past these reasons for holding on tight to EHRs.
- Let patients setup doctor appointments through their mobile device.
- Medical practices can provide updates on doctor wait times through a mobile app so patients can plan their schedule better with the information.
- Lose the pen and paper for check-ins. Check-in using the mobile app.
- Remember when your patients had to describe their symptoms? They can now bring pictures to your practice in their mobile phone or even upload them prior to the appointment so you get a chance to review them prior to their arrival.
- Pay using a mobile app.
- Finally, take the customer satisfaction survey through a mobile app.
While mHealth can be beneficial to your practice, there are still obstacles to the widespread adoption, cautions Kimball. First, healthcare is not an aggressive early adopter of mobile technologies when compared to some other industry sectors. Consumers can pay bills online, stream their favorite movie or television show online and even unlock their car using various technologies.
The Research and Markets mHealth trends report predicts a compound annual growth rate of 61 percent by 2017 with a $26 billion revenue to be derived predominantly from mHealth hardware sales and services. This report also illustrates the three phases of mHealth development: trial, commercialization and integration.
Currently, the industry is entering into the commercialization phase which is characterized by the mass development of solutions, business models and a focus on private companies and consumers. During commercialization, mobile health applications will become an integrated part of care plans while health insurers become the main purchaser complex features and functions.
As the mHealth market matures, mHealth will face growing pains similar to other maturing markets including increased regulation, scarce resources and cost pressures. Another key obstacle to mHealth adoption among practices and other healthcare entities is the lack of effective partnerships. Mobile talent is in high demand across industries. In industries such as energy and banking, where mobile devices were in use before there was a mobile Internet, there are numerous internal and external companies with a wide array of mobile capabilities. Healthcare lacks this level of market integration. Frequently, either a healthcare entity fails to develop a user-friendly application or a technology provider creates an application with no viable business case. Unless technology service providers effectively work with the healthcare industry, mobile health will face adoption challenges.
Kimball believes the real value of mobile technology will come from its ability to leverage cloud-based analytics to convert collected data into valuable information in real time. Through mHealth technologies, patients receive immediate feedback so their wellness plan can be adjusted accordingly. Likewise, as an independent primary care physician, you will see trended and current clinical data which allows you to make the best possible decisions for your patients. Moving forward, mHealth will continue to evolve and become the connective bond that will collect and disseminate data to the collective healthcare ecosystem.