Apps can't always change patient behavior

It's time for a reality check in mobile healthcare.

The myriad smartphone apps for healthcare generally are wonderful, low-cost tools for improving a small part of healthcare. But apps by themselves can't change patient behavior, says Dan Feinberg, director of the graduate program in health informatics at Northeastern University in Boston, who spoke at a recent Massachusetts Health Data Consortium panel discussion on mobile health, according to CMIO editor Mary Stevens.

"His remarks point to a necessary part of the mobile conversation--human nature and the unintended consequences of 'whiz-bang' innovation," Stevens writes in a CMIO commentary.

"If a patient gets a device with impressive capabilities, that patient might try it out and get impressive results--then try out the same app on his or her friends, and possibly pets," Stevens explains. "In this case, patient-supplied multiple data points won't produce a valid picture of how the patient is doing. More insidious, perhaps, is a situation where a diabetic patient knows a monitor will accurately measure and record his blood sugar level, but decides to eat a donut anyway, and just skips taking a reading, Feinberg said."

Also, the "cool factor" may wear off in a few months, and patients can revert to their bad habits unless physicians continue to support them. "Interestingly, there's other data to show that patients will comply with treatment more when they're confident that their doctor is watching, according to Feinberg."

For more:
- check out Stevens' commentary in CMIO