Money and smartphones improve patient health

Give patients money, coaching and a mobile phone and you just might be able to get them up off the couch and eating better.

That's the upshot of a recently published study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The 20-week study asked patients to upload their data about diet choices and exercise levels daily. They contacted health coaches by phone or email as needed for support, motivation, or to ask questions.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study, though, is that researchers paid patients for good choices. It wasn't a gold mine--only about $175--but patients received the money if they met all of their clinical goals during the treatment phase of the study. Researchers even paid patients after the treatment phase ended, handing out between $30 and $80 in the follow-up period if patients continued to upload their data.

And the money made a difference. All of the major outcomes--improved diet, decreased couch time, increased activity levels--peaked during the treatment phase, and fell off during the follow-up period. Interestingly, though, the levels never fell below the pre-study baseline.

For example, the number of minutes patients spent at sedentary leisure activities fell from 219 before the study to 89 during the treatment phase, then ticked back up to nearly 126 during follow-up. But the 126 was still 42 percent lower than before the study, according to a story at PsychCentral.com.

The value of the coaching, however, wasn't as clear, and other recent studies seem to question the method's effectiveness. Case in point, a New England Journal of Medicine study published late last fall indicated that health coaches have little value when used for chronic care patients, or as part of a disease management program.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- check out the PsychCentral.com report
- read the NIH announcement

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