Why Physicians Should Encourage Mobile Phone Use for Better Health

March 20, 2012

Many physicians agree with the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Doctors may want to also suggest patients use mobile phones when it comes to health management.

Most physicians agree with the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” 

And while the classic, crisp autumn fruit is definitely still worthy of recommendation, doctors may want to also suggest patients use mobile phones along with those apples when it comes to health management.

In a recent survey of 2,000 participants in employer-sponsored wellness programs, health technology provider incentaHEALTH found individuals are increasingly turning to mobile phones and social media sites to help make achieving health goals easier.

According to the company’s “2nd Annual Mobile and Social Media in Wellness” survey, 80 percent of consumer respondents are looking at text messages on a daily basis. Additionally, more than 70 percent of respondents said they wanted wellness information and tips delivered to them while on the go.

Wellness programs, defined by incentaHEALTH as those that emphasize “lifestyle changes that lead to lifelong healthy weight,” increasingly involve using tools that are accessible via mobile phones. These include fitness apps and SMS text coaching, or visual progress reports that show “before” and “after” weight-loss photos.

But although this particular survey is focused on the experience of wellness-program beneficiaries, we believe there are many take-away lessons for primary-care physicians.

For starters, primary-care physicians should push patients to use any and all technology that can help them improve their own health. Healthier patients ultimately spur better outcomes - something that’s going to become more important to payers and regulators alike.

As our 2011 Physician Compensation Survey points out, reimbursement by insurance companies is shifting from visit-based to value-based models. At the same time, in the Affordable Care Act is a provision that calls for the establishment of a Medicare value-based purchasing modifier that will adjust physician fees and, says CMS, will "transform Medicare from a passive payer to an active purchaser of higher quality, more efficient healthcare" starting in 2015. Both cost and quality data are to be included in calculating payments for physicians.

"Medicare and payers will continue taking steps that will lead medical groups to focus compensation on outcomes rather than on volume of procedures," Vivian Luce, regional director of physician recruitment firm Cejka Search, told Physicians Practice. "Physicians who cannot meet quality outcome requirements and lower readmissions are likely to earn less."

That being said, practices should be mindful that technology isn’t necessarily a cure-all tool for patients who are unwilling to make long-term commitments. But encouraging its use is an easy way for physicians to connect with their patients, be part of their goals for better health, and improve their satisfaction level.