Making an mHealth Connection to Patients

October 29, 2014

Patients have smartphones. Physicians have information about health and well-being. So logically, using mobile health technology can provide better connections.

In the quest for greater patient engagement and satisfaction physicians should tap into something that every patient has, relies on, and can access immediately; namely, their mobile technology.

According to research from the smartphone industry, users check their devices every six minutes, or 150 times per day. Imagine then, that the estimated 95 million Americans with a smartphone - including your patient base - could not only engage, but take a more active role in their own care.

"Mobile is everywhere," said Wayne Guerra, co-founder of healthcare app developer iTriage and a former emergency medicine physician. "I am a recovering practicing physician … and watched patients struggle without the information to make the right care decisions."

Guerra presented "Activating Patients with Mobile Health" at the 2014 Medical Group Management Association Annual Conference on Wed., Oct. 29.

Guerra pointed to recent survey data from FICO and AARP that said 80 percent of smartphone users are interested in mobile health technologies to enable interaction with healthcare providers, and 69 percent said they would embrace mobile tools for making doctor appointments and using medication reminders.

"This is good for patients," he said, "Not only do they want it, but it can keep them healthy."

Guerra said his professional experiences align with HHS data that shows only 12 percent of Americans are health literate, and another 50 percent leave their doctor's office not knowing what they are supposed to do.

Take all the stats into account and mobile health makes sense for medical practices. But how do practices - especially the small ones without health IT staff or resources - take advantage of engaging patients via their smartphones and tablets?

A number of websites practices use are mobile-friendly, so that's a good first step.

Guerra advised purchasing a listing in an online physician finder, preferably one that is mobile-enabled that already have millions of active users (examples include ZocDoc and Healthgrades). Then, share detailed information about your physicians, from their education and specialties to what languages they speak and what insurance plans they accept. A photo also goes a long way, Guerra said.

"If you know what your doctor looks like and his philosophy of care, where he trained, etc., you feel like you know your doctor before you walk in the door," he said.

Then, boost that health literacy by utilizing mobile channels to provide valuable educational and functional tools, including a symptom checker, lists of descriptions of medications, educational videos featuring your physicians, and - if possible - access to patient records via your patient portal.

"This is so critical to health literacy," he said. "Patients are so confused about medications, so let's help them."

This can be as simple as providing patients with links to WebMD, Everyday Health, and other professionally developed websites and apps. The goal, said Guerra, is to engage and empower the patient in their own care by communicating appropriately.

Practices can also strengthen use of their patient portal by providing mobile messaging and secure text messaging, a growing part of better lines of communication with patients, especially the one out of every two who leave the practice unsure of their next steps.

"[As physicians], we don't do this naturally," Guerra said, "We use jargon … so remove it, slow down, and during a visit, have the patient repeat the most important information back to you. That makes connections to your patients."