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Is Low-Key the Way to Go with mHealth?

mobile-device-with-stethiscope-coming-out-graphicJust three years ago, in its “Touching Lives through Mobile Health: Assessment of the Global Market Opportunity,” PwC predicted that the mobile health market in the U.S. would be the world’s largest at $5.9 billion by 2017. The 2014 launch of Apple’s HealthKit, coupled by an abundance of mHealth apps already available or in development, seems to support PwC’s expectations. Yet, despite the pressure to design the next ‘viral’ app for mHealth, some health care providers are finding that innovation doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Straightforward solutions are sometimes the most effective when it comes to improving patient outcomes.

Two Simple mHealth Solutions that are Solving Problems

Last month, H&HN Magazine highlighted two health care organizations that followed the path of least resistance when implementing mHealth solutions.

1. Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania

As any health care provider knows, missed appointments represent both a financial drain for the organization and lost opportunities to connect with patients and improve patient outcomes. Geisinger already had an automated, interactive voice response (IVR) system that initiated calls to patients for appointment reminders.  Unfortunately, the health network was still experiencing multimillion-dollar losses due to missed appointments.

By incorporating a text-message reminder system in the mix, Geisinger reduced the no-show rate by a few more percentage points, which saved nearly $700,000 in the first year.

The health system started with a pilot project of including just 5,000 patients, but was able to quickly scale up as positive results came in. The text-message reminder system now functions across the entire network of more than 130,000 patients. There is still work to be done.

Chanin Wendling, director of e-health at Geisinger, notes that the organization is currently working on a system to allow patients to opt-in to their preferred reminder channel — mail, phone or text. Right now, a patient could receive both a call and a text, which Wendling said, “might be pushing a patient’s patience.”

The bells and whistles of mobile apps and wearable devices sometimes steal the limelight from simpler mHealth solutions. 

As Geisinger’s Chanin Wendling pointed out, “That’s kind of sad, because it’s [texting] not that hard to do. Our results from text messaging of appointments… have been very positive. And the amount of effort we’ve expended hasn’t been dramatic, whereas, trying to navigate the mobile app world is much more complicated.”

2. Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee

Proper hand hygiene — it seems like it should be second nature in a health care setting, but as many hospitals and health care providers know, compliance can be a challenge.

In 2009, Vanderbilt University Medical Center decided to address the 50 percent compliance rate head-on, with the use of firsthand observers in 36 inpatient units and 112 outpatient offices. The trained observers helped move compliance from 50 to 80 percent in just three years. Good results, but considering that patient safety was at risk, non-compliance 20 percent of the time was still too high. Vanderbilt noted several problems with the observer system in place:

  • The transfer of observation notes to the Web was too time-consuming
  • Observer fatigue could negatively impact reporting accuracy
  • Documentation criteria was extensive, and any missing information weakened the results
  • Scheduling of observers was sometimes difficult to manage

To address these issues, Vanderbilt developed an app, compatible with any type of mobile device, that alerts observers to their assignments, pre-populates details like observation dates and times, and color coded job descriptions to support one-click reporting. Tom Talbot, M.D., chief hospital epidemiologist, said, “The design really did streamline the efficiency for the observer.”

As a result, the compliance rate has risen to 95 percent and the volume of observations has increased from just 3,000 observations in the previous 7 years to nearly 4,000 observations a month.

Making the Case for Usability

In both of the examples offered by H&HN, the success can be attributed — at least in part — to the fact that these organizations avoided complexity in their mHealth solutions. HIT Consultant offered some advice that hospitals and other health care organizations interested in developing mHealth solutions need to remember. “The job of mHealth apps is to inform, educate and tell users what positive action to take. This process should be a simple and intuitive one. What’s the point of an app that has the potential to deliver a healthy outcome but offers a difficult and frustrating user experience?”

That means knowing what mHealth consumers expect from the tools you offer. Otherwise, you may find you have a flashy app that fails to engage consumers long enough to be effective at improving patient outcomes.

Next week, c2b is fielding its 2015 market research study of the U.S. health care consumer. 4,000 respondents will answer a comprehensive battery of questions covering many facets of health care and self care, including message fatigue (helping to address Mr. Wendling’s concerns) and mobile app usage. In addition to general app usage, respondents will indicate which of the top 67 health & fitness apps they use. Respondents are able to be segmented demographically, socioeconomically, geographically, psychographically or by any of the hundreds of variables captured in the study.

c2b solutions’ clients can license any portion — or all — of the data from this ambitious study, and run custom data queries from our analytics dashboard, the c2b Insights Accelerator.

Explore how the consumer data available in the c2b Insights Accelerator can help you define the mHealth solutions you need or contact PatientBond to arrange a consultation.

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