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Five Considerations in Starting an mHealth Program


More practices and hospitals are exploring how mobile devices can engage patients and improve outcomes. Here's how your practice can get involved.

Engaging patients in their care through the use of mobile devices, also known as mHealth, is one of the biggest healthcare technology trends of 2015. But what exactly should your medical practice be doing to get involved?

That's a question that Chanin Wendling, director of the division of applied research and clinical Informatics at Geisinger Health System, explored during her presentation, "Active Patient Engagement: mHealth as a Tool for Interaction," at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago.

Wendling said health systems that want to get more involved with mHealth must adopt the right perspective first.

Don't get lured in by a mobile tool just because it is exciting and cutting edge, she said. Instead, consider whether the tool will provide value to your patients and providers.

"You need to look at this technology in that same context of hiring another physician or buying another medical device - what is this going to accomplish for you?" she said.

For Geisinger, Wendling said the value of mHealth is improved patient engagement that leads to better outcomes and lower costs. That's "a very strong business rationale," she said.

Here are five of Wendling's other suggestions for practices hoping to form a successful mHealth program:

1. Define the objectives. If you don't have an end goal, it's difficult to determine how to get started. Wendling said that before embarking on an mHealth project, you should first define your objectives. At Geisinger, those mHealth objectives include helping patients understand their health, helping them be better prepared for patient visits, and helping them control their health conditions.

2. Determine how fast you want to move. Just because the health system down the street is using a particular mobile tool, that doesn't mean it's the right tool for your practice. Similarly, just because that health system is rushing to adopt mobile tools, that doesn't mean your practice needs to do so.

"You can be a follower" and let others figure it out first, said Wendling. "The key is to think about where you want to be, what's important for your specific organization, what [you] value, what kind of patients do you have, and what kind of business measurements you have..."

3. Assign project management responsibilities. Before embarking on an mHealth project, make sure you have identified the appropriate staff to lead it. Also, make sure you provide them with adequate time and resources to be successful, said Wendling. "I believe that if something is important you dedicate resources to it."

4. Determine what projects to pursue and what tools to use. When determining what type of mHealth project to pursue, consider your desired outcomes and what tool might increase the likelihood that you will achieve those outcomes. Possible mHealth Tools include patient portals that can be accessed via a mobile device or app, mobile apps, text messaging, and so on.

For more on these tools, read "Five mHealth Tools for Practices to Consider."

5. Consider the patient perspective. Regardless of what tools you decide to use and what project you embark on, keep the patient's perspective at the forefront of your decision-making, said Wendling.

Think about what a patient would prefer in relation to the tool. For instance, it might be helpful to offer a medication reminder through both a mobile push from an app and from a text message so the patient can choose what will work best for him. Also, consider whether the mHealth solution best suits patients' needs. For instance, it might be helpful to enable patients to choose what time of day they receive medication reminders, rather than having all the patients receive the reminders at the same time.

Some methods Wendling recommended to get patient feedback regarding mobile device design and deployment include:
• Ask clinicians to share feedback they receive from patients. 
• Conduct a survey on your patient portal and offer an incentive to those who complete it, such as a gift card. 
• Discuss mobile devices with patients when they come in for visits.
• Ask your patient advisory council for input (if you have one).

"Most [vendor] companies are not spending enough on the user design," said Wendling. "They're spending a lot of time with the doctors and not thinking about the patient's perspective."


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