A path must be created for full consumer use of mHealth

Sometimes one simple answer to a question can prove as compelling and relevant as an 800-word commentary, a 15-minute video interview or a six-panelist, one-hour workshop session.

Case in point, a recent Forbes report in which doctors were asked how many patients had inquired about integrating data from a fitness mHealth device into their electronic patient record. As this week's article on this polling exercise points out, not too many are at all interested in connecting healthcare data activities. As the doctors indicate, more than a good majority of patients--85 percent--haven't asked the question.

This clearly begs several questions: Has mHealth technology jumped the shark and run too far ahead of its intended user base, and is the technology now totally disengaged from consumers? And what needs to happen to prompt consumers/patients motivated to ask such questions next time they're in for a check-up or interacting with their medical practitioner?

After all, as we've previously reported, nearly half of American adults, 48 percent, are extremely interested in using smartphone and tablets for checking blood pressure, 47 percent are interested in tools that monitor heartbeats and 23 percent are somewhat interested in using mHealth apps and devices.

The answer to the first two-fold question is yes and yes. While we've got scientists creating a new patch wearable device that taps sweat, rather than blood, for diagnosing disease and a smartphone can be used as a glaucoma monitor, there is a dismal number of users tapping wearables to track heart rate and blood pressure. Of patients downloading mHealth apps, more than 50 percent admit they don't use them after six months. There are hundreds and thousands of apps at patients' fingertips, but little to no dialogue between patients/consumers and healthcare providers about such tools.

This is not a good scenario for anyone, from patients to physicians to payers.

Then comes my third question: What can be done to change the scenario? The answer is simple: It's time to motivate, create incentives, cajole and spur consumers/patients into playing an active role their own care in which they start tapping all the innovative technology available.

Still, that's easier said than done, even with the potential for insurance premium discounts and the respected brand names like Apple, Google and Samsung in the mix.

The big reason is because mHealth tools, like any tech endeavor, require time and knowledge to successfully traverse inherent learning curves. Tackling those obstacles to clear a path for user adoption--to spur consumers and patients to increase use of mHealth devices and make the connection with their healthcare provider--will require a concerted, collaborative and coordinated user-focused marketing effort. And that effort must involve the vendors, providers, payers and municipal health agencies that are running full speed ahead.

That doesn't mean anyone has to slow down. It does mean implementing strategies that circle around and reach back to the user base before the distance becomes too great.