Mobile health increases patient engagement, but ability to leverage tools falters

Digital technology is in the early stages when it comes to "safety net" deployments, but such tools pose tremendous promise and potential in engaging patients in healthcare management, according to new Commonwealth Fund research.

Key factors for strong adoption down the line include technical support for integration and device management, evidence-based models illustrating the potential of successful use in care delivery, and payment and reimbursement policies, the report says.

The report is based on data collected from an online survey of urban and rural community health centers and clinics, representing insight from 181 organizations.

Some of the survey's findings include:

  • Patients with chronics disease were the most engaged (88.9 percent), with preventative care and wellness each garnering 85 percent interest
  • 86 percent of those polled said patient engagement is a challenge
  • Appointment reminders were the most popular form of engagement, at 30 percent, followed by immunization reminders, screening reminders and health education and personal health data access
  • The top three patient engagement benefits are improving compliance with standard care practices; facilitating improved case management and targeted outreach; and promoting sustained patient engagement in behavior change

"Cellphones and other consumer digital technologies have emerged as potentially powerful tools to engage patients in healthcare," the report's authors write. "They can strengthen the efficacy of safety-net health systems by improving providers' capacity to reach vulnerable populations and actively engage them in their care."

The research insight comes as consumers and healthcare providers increasingly view mobile devices and apps as viable tools in proactive health management. A Kansas provider is using a mobile app to shore up patient-healthcare provider communications and enhance its electronic health record system by providing patients with more tools for deeper engagement in healthcare issues and decision-making. In addition, an interdisciplinary team of mHealth app designers created MySleep 101 software to identify common sleep issues that often go untreated, and Phoenix Children's Hospital is developing a digital mobile system for pediatric discharge. 

The report notes that while mobile devices providing patient-centered technology actively engage patients in care, evidence of effectiveness in improving health-related outcomes is limited. In addition, "providers have not been able to effectively leverage technology tools" to improve population health and care delivery, the authors say.

The research cites three barriers to deploying cellphone interventions: limited funding; limited human and technical resources; and lack of integration of mHealth tools with electronic health records and other HIT infrastructure.

"To fully unlock the potential of technology to improve healthcare will require an improved understanding of the use of mobile health in patient care, as well as policies that provide funding, technical assistance, and reimbursement and address the issues of informed consent, privacy and security," the authors write.

For more information:
- read the Commonwealth Fund report