Five Mobile Health Tools for Practices to Consider

April 12, 2015

With so many mobile device options available, it can be difficult to determine what mobile health solution is right for your practice.

As technology evolves and medical practices attempt to get more patients actively involved and engaged in their healthcare, many practices are exploring how mobile devices might help them along that journey.

But with so many mobile device options available and with so little long-term evidence to show which tools are most effective and in what circumstances, it can be difficult to determine what mobile health solution is right for your practice.

Chanin Wendling, the director of the division of applied research and clinical Informatics at Geisinger Health System, is involved in determining what mobile and portal technologies drive digital patient engagement and facilitate the provider's ability to deliver quality patient care.

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 discussed some of the most notable mobile health options available to practices today. She also shared some of her feedback regarding which of these tools practices might want to consider and why.

1. Patient portals (that can be accessed via a mobile app or on a mobile device). Patient portals are a fundamental platform in helping patients become more informed about their healthcare, said Wendling. They also may be a great tool to help patient visits go more smoothly.

Wendling noted that Geisinger recently introduced a new pre-visit center patient portal feature to see if it helps streamline patient visits and help patients come to appointments more informed. Two weeks prior to appointments, patients receive a message that they should log on to the portal to fill out go pre-visit paperwork, review notes from previous visits, and so on.

2. Mobile apps. While mobile apps are generating a lot of buzz, practices may want to proceed cautiously before rushing to implement them. Wendling said that since there are so many options, and since many of them are "young," it can difficult to determine which are going to be valuable to your patients and healthcare system.

So what's a good place to start with mobile apps? If your healthcare system is using desktop-based applications and your vendor offers a fairly inexpensive mobile app, it's probably worthwhile to deploy that, said Wendling.

3. Text messages. Text messages have been an "underrated" mHealth tool, said Wendling. Since patients are already interested in and familiar with text messages, a text message program is cheap to deploy, and such a program can be implemented quickly, it's a great mHealth option for many health systems, said Wendling.

Examples of how Geisinger is using text messages include text message appointment reminders and text messages sent to diabetic patients hoping to lose weight that include motivational language and tips.

4. Activity trackers. Wendling was bit more cautious about mobile devices that track activity and health information that can then be shared with providers. "... I think the big issue there is, do you want the data?" she said, noting that it may add to physicians' workload.

While this type of mHealth has promise, carefully consider whether the approach you are considering is necessary and of clinical value to your patients. 

5. A multi-faceted tablet approach. Another mHealth tool that Wendling touched on is a variety of ways tablets might be used in patient care.

Geisinger, for instance, is embarking on a pilot program to test whether tablets distributed to in-house patients can entertain and serve as a positive distraction for pediatric patients, connect patients to medical information, enable patients to provide feedback to providers (such as their pain level), and so on.