mHealth Day 1: Recapping the Afternoon Sessions

September 9, 2010
Sean Johnson

After a well-informed morning session on day one at mHealth's San Diego conference, the afternoon brought an intensified focus on SMS (otherwise known as text messaging) and how it can be used to benefit the health of patients.

After a well-informed morning session on day one at mHealth’s San Diego conference, the afternoon brought an intensified focus on SMS (otherwise known as text messaging) and how it can be used to benefit the health of patients.

Now, as well all know, cell phones are as ubiquitous as it gets. In fact, there are about 5 BILLION working cell phones currently circulating in the world. So it stands to reason that there should be research and initiatives in place to utilize this technology to benefit the health of patients everywhere. And at conferences like mHealth, attendees get to see exactly what’s been going on and how things in this area have progressed.

Neil Versel of Fierce Mobile Healthcare warmed up the audience by giving an excellent and nostalgic presentation looking back on the evolution of hand-held devices over the last decade. It was interesting to see so many new articles from earlier this decade talking about how incredible the Palm was and how technology had finally evolved to what seemed like the pinnacle. Everyone got a laugh when Versel continued on and flashed forward a few years to pictures of the iPhone and headlines like “iPhone App to Replace Stethoscope.” But the point Versel was trying to make really did shine through, and it showed just how many opportunities we now have to use mobile devices to deliver better and more timely healthcare. He also made an effort to point out just how necessary it is for search engines like Google to find a way to differentiate between homonyms. He included a screenshot where the search query was “mobile healthcare” and the top search results were for clinics in Mobile, Alabama and clinics that make house visits. And, of course, those are examples of mobile healthcare, but it doesn’t exactly provide the kind of information a user is likely looking for, especially considering all of the recent developments in this area. Versel concluded with a few statistic-heavy slides that depicted the popularity of text messaging and how it is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years (check out Versel’s entire presentation here).

Following Versel’s presentation, a blitzkrieg of short and sweet 15-20 minute presentations began. Although it didn’t leave much time for any in-depth Q&As, it was a great way to put a finger on the pulse of what is going on in all aspects of the “mobile meets healthcare” industry. Up next was Patrick Enright, Director of Enterprise Sales, gave a quick, 15-minute presentation displaying the ways in which mobile was currently being used to help deliver better healthcare. To give a quick recap of a quick recap, here are the four ways in which mobile is already being used in healthcare and some examples of how each one works:

Cost Savings (appointment reminders, medication reminders, fraud reduction)

Marketing (prescription refills, allergy info, health alerts)

Customer Retention (internal communication, engagement, emergency alerts, company announcements)

New Brand Revenue (brand loyalty, more customer touch points)

Enright was very passionate about how mobile was already beginning to transform healthcare, and very optimistic about how technological developments would continue to provide even more possibilities in the future.

Following Enright’s presentation, Robert Furberg of RTI International gave what turned out to be the most popular presentation of the afternoon: SMS and Health: Review of Mobile Phone Text Messaging in Chronic Disease Management.

HCPLive has covered this topic many times before, but it seems that there has been constant progression. Furberg took the time to assemble a team to review a tremendous amount of literature on the subject and extract the data in a way that would help the team take the research to another level. Although he did not have some pertinent data (average age, average number of text messages to be effective on patients), his presentation was essentially showing the audience that there is real potential here. In a 90-day intervention, Furberg set up a system where patients were not initially sent medication adherence reminders, but were sent weekly questions saying things like “how many meds did you miss this week?” If users established a habit of not taking their regular medications, they would be set up with a reminder system, which showed very promising results in the form of an uptick in adherence. It also created an interesting side effect; Furberg said that many patients would send back random replies like “thanks, I love you.” This made certain data capture difficult, but in the end it pointed to the fact that the patient needed and appreciated the reminder(s). Furberg also made it a point to mention that SMS is an excellent approach to medication adherence, especially those with chronic conditions, but it wasn't a standalone solution. Instead, it's just an integral part of a multipronged approach.

So far, mHealth has been a success in presenting the developments in mobile healthcare and bringing together the people that will be responsible for helping to take it to the next level. Make sure to check back for coverage of day 2 tomorrow, which features HCPLive blogger Joe Kim’s morning presentation, “Technology and Medicine: Mobile Applications and Clinical Outcomes.”