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Engaging Patients Through Mobile Devices


Why those smartphones your patients carry might be the trick to physician-patient engagement.

In 2012, the term “patient engagement” entered the spotlight, as physicians were urged by Congress, payers, healthcare consultants, and even their closest friends to “engage patients” in their own healthcare. Preferably in an electronic, HIPAA-compliant way.

The topic of conversation then becomes how.

Some physicians complain that patients don’t always want the hassle of having to check a portal - remember yet another login and password - to send messages to their doctors (especially if the portal isn’t easy or fun to use). And while using healthcare apps and keeping personal health records online constitute examples of patient engagement, these methods of engagement don’t help physicians prove they’re meeting CMS’ Stage 2 meaningful use objectives.

How do you get patients in high-risk disease groups engaged in their disease management? How do you get patients interested in engaging in secure conversations about their healthcare, or in downloading personal health records?

The answer may lie in the palms of their hands (or the crooks of their elbows, if they’re iPad users).

A growing number of hospitals and medical practices are getting patients engaged in their own care by using mobile devices, the“2nd Annual HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey,” conducted by the analytics team of the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) reveals.

For the survey, HIMSS Analytics conducted the Web-based and telephone-based research with 180 hospital- and practice-based IT professionals in October and November 2012. All survey respondents were required to have some role in their organization’s mobile technology environment.

More than one-third of respondents (36 percent) reported allowing patients/consumers the ability to access information using a mobile device, up from 32 percent one year ago, according to the survey. However, researchers noted there is a reluctance to provide apps to consumers, as only 13 percent of respondents indicated that their organizations had developed an app for patient/consumer use.

“Mobile technology has the opportunity to change the way that clinicians interact with their patients,” Jennifer Horowitz, senior director, research, for HIMSS Analytics, told Physicians Practice.

Other studies support the notion that patients are interested in using mobile phones to engage with clinicians.

In May, University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology published a study based on mobile phone use of 32 adult patients in a public hospital in Quito, Ecuador, over a one-month period. Nurses used mobile phones to clarify discharge instructions, provide preventive education, and facilitate clinic appointments. By this method, 87 percent of patients were successfully linked to follow-up appointments.

Researchers concluded most all patients discharged from the hospital were eager to use mobile phones to interact with nurses and receive post-hospital medical advice.

Interestingly, there may be other, more clever ways on the horizon to engage in their healthcare with their handsets. This morning, an e-mail crossed my desk about a new app that allows for patients to share medical records (and STD results) HIPAA-compliantly by bumping phones with other users. If the app is successful, we can expect to see other apps that allow patients to access their medical records and download information via their phone or media tablet.

We look forward to seeing what else the New Year will bring in the mobile healthcare arena.

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