Mobile Health Technology Impacts Quality and Cost

The adoption of mobile healthcare technology continues to gain steam-at least as far as consumers are concerned. And yet, physicians-often seen as the key driver for patient mobile health adoption-are not mirroring the acceptance registered by consumers.

The adoption of mobile healthcare technology continues to gain steam—at least as far as consumers are concerned.

A study conducted by Healthline, a provider of intelligent health information and technology solutions, found that more than half (52%) of respondents use at least one mobile health app, with most (49%) using up to four apps. Fifteen percent own a Fitbit or similar activity tracker.

And yet, physicians—often seen as the key driver for patient mobile health adoption—are not mirroring the acceptance registered by consumers. A survey conducted by market research firm MedPanel reveals that just 15% of physicians are discussing these wearable or mobile health apps with their patients.

James Mault, MD, FACS, vice president and chief medical officer of Qualcomm Life, isn’t surprised by the contrasting survey results.

“It starts with trust,” Mault explains. “At the end of the day, for a physician to start doing things with information generated by wearables and apps, do they trust the information?”

Questions Unanswered

The answer, at least to this point, is apparently not. And that’s despite the results of the MedPanel research where physicians say, “38% of patients not using a wearable and 42% of patients not using an app could benefit from doing so.”

Mault says there are still too many important questions to be answered.

“For physicians, nurses or pharmacists, do you trust the accuracy of the information?” he asks, rhetorically. “Do you trust the safety of relying on that information? Because if you’re going to start making medical decisions, is this information coming from the patient that we think it’s coming from? Or is this data being changed or modified by the patient?”

Mault believes that mobile health apps and related devices offer utility in fitness and exercise, as well as weight management. But when it comes to take care of people with serious medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, doctors and nurses are looking for and should demand a medical grade level solution.

“They need to know what instrument the data is coming from, and therefore they’ll know the accuracy of that information,” he says. “They’ll know that the accuracy of that data transmission is assured. That means the patient doesn’t have the opportunity to delete data or change values, and also that that data transmission is private and secure. And only from that starting point can doctors and nurses and pharmacists begin to decide how often they want that information sent to them, how often do they want patients to measure it, and then how are they going to process that information.”

Meaningful and Scalable

Mault believes that for mobile healthcare technology to gain more traction among physicians, it’s not enough for information to simply be transmitted from patients directly into their electronic medical record.

“Doctors, and particularly nurses, are going to need an air traffic control system to be able to manage that incoming information and be able to set thresholds,” he says. “How often do they want that information? Do you have someone who’s going to look at a thousand blood pressure measurements every month, or every week? Probably not.”

He explains that if a thousand blood pressures measurements are coming in, that’s great if all of those blood pressure measures are normal. Then nothing needs to be done. In fact, Mault doesn’t even need to look at them.

“Show me those patients whose blood pressures are above more than 140 systolic; but not just one measurement, because maybe they’re arguing with their spouse,” Mault says. “I only want to know if their blood pressure has been above 140 for three consecutive measurements, or for three consecutive days.”

That, Mault says, is what Qualcomm Life’s HealthyCircles Platform does. It’s called exception-based management.

“Show me the smaller portion that, based on my criteria or the American Heart Association criteria or whatever criteria you want to apply,” he says. “Then, I’ll see the patients that need my attention.”

Financial Impact

Mault says that use of mobile healthcare technology can have important financial benefits to the industry in general, and to medical practices in particular—especially in light of the increasing emphasis being placed on reimbursing for quality of care.

“By using remote patient monitoring tools, which means asynchronous communication, combined with exception management, it improves the quality across an entire population at a fraction of the cost compared to the synchronous, analog approach to care,” Mault says.

He points to the banking, retail and travel industries as having already made the transition from analog to digital. And healthcare, he says, is about to do the same thing.

“And this model of moving healthcare gently from synchronous to asynchronous and applying exception management will now allow us to go from an episodic haphazard model of care to a very, very intelligent continuous care model where we can literally take much better care of many more people at a much lower cost.”