Enhance caregiving by improving your m-health strategy

Last week, Twitter was all abuzz about a new report from the Healthcare Performance Institute that said social media can help reduce medical expenses while improving the quality of care.

The article focused on electronic health records and the importance of sharing patient data, but neglected to look at what I think is the biggest health trend--mobile health, more commonly known as "m-health."

We know that more than 60 percent of adults use the Internet to find health information, but most haven't made the switch to doing this via their smartphone. According to research conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 17 percent of adult cell phone users use their phones to look up health information. It's no surprise that younger adults (18-29), are more likely to use their phones (29 percent) to find health and wellness information. We can only imagine that these numbers will continue to grow --with both younger and older adults making the switch.

And while everyone's talking about iPhone and mobile apps, it's important to note that only 9 percent of cell phone users have applications that let them track their health. The industry may be moving to mobile health apps, but we're not there yet.

Instead, hospitals need to take another look at their websites. With more people accessing health information via their smartphones, not only do hospitals need to think about adding more social features to their site--they need to make sure their site is mobile friendly. Hospitals are making an effort to reach wireless patients. For example, two months after Southern Regional Health System in Riverdale, Ga., launched their mobile-friendly site, they found that smartphone users represented 2.5 percent of their website traffic. Five months later, smartphone users accounted for 5 percent of their website's traffic.

Short Message Service (SMS) texting
may not be as cool as mobile apps, but it may be the key to mobile health. In addition to doing simple things like sending out appointment reminders, texting provides a great way to reach tweens and teens. Research shows that half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month. It's no surprise that a recent study showed that sending text reminders to teen diabetes patients about their insulin treatments helped them stick to their treatment and manage their blood glucose levels.

One of my favorite healthy text applications is Text4Baby, a bilingual health program that allows moms to sign up to receive three free text messages each week that are timed to her due date or baby's date of birth. These messages focus on a variety of topics critical to maternal and child health, including birth defects prevention, immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, mental health, oral health, and safe sleep.

Another interesting service is Mobile Health Interventions' Health Txts, a personalized text messaging service that helps people change unhealthy behaviors by sending them text messages when and where they need it most. This would be a perfect program to support surgical weight loss patients post surgery. They've even received a grant through the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to create an interactive messaging system.

David Harlow shares my belief that mobile is where it's at for hospitals. His recent HealthBlawg post looked at two mobile health reports that were issued in October: one was written by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and another written by Deloitte.

The Deloitte study, which looked at mobile personal health records, piqued my interest--even though they may be a thing of the future. We all know that the federal government is pushing hospitals and other healthcare providers to move to electronic health records. It's only a hop, skip and a jump before people want to access these records via their smartphones.

The good news is that the infrastructure to make mobile health records a reality seems to be in the works. For example, HealthVault, Microsoft's personal health record, recently announced it will join forces with the Continua Health Alliance (the non-profit industry coalition of leading healthcare and technology companies), making a large number of mobile devices capable of uploading data directly into people's HealthVault PHRs. Ready or not, mobile health is right around the corner. Hospitals need to embrace this technology and make the most of it.

Jenn Riggle is an associate vice president and social media leader of the Health Practice at CRT/tanaka. She has 20 years of public relations experience in issues such as health care marketing and public relations, social media in health care, national media relations and strategic communications planning. She regularly engages in social media, both on Twitter (@riggrl) and frequently blogs about social media and health care issues for The Buzz Bin, a PR and marketing blog.