Study: mHealth impact negligible on healthcare costs, patient benefits

A research trial evaluating mobile healthcare technology versus traditional disease management reveals "little evidence" digital medicine intervention reduces healthcare costs or drives greater consumer healthcare interest, though some improvement in health self-management was reported.

The six-month Scripps Translational Science Institute trial provided 160 participants managing hypertension, diabetes and/or cardiac arrhythmia with iPhone-enabled biosensors, blood pressure monitors, blood glucose meters or a mobile ECG device. Participants were provided data aggregation and visualization tools to track and view data via an online dashboard accessible to caregivers. The goal was to ascertain if mHealth utilization impacted healthcare insurance claims.

"Overall we found little in terms of differences in health insurance claims between individuals enrolled in the control and monitoring arm," the Scripps researchers said, noting that they expected a moderate impact--approximately a doubling of insurance claims dollars. "This suggests that while there may be small, short-term increases in healthcare utilization as a result of mobile health monitoring, there is likely not a major effect. "

Chilmark Research analyst Naveen Rao cited three major flaws in the design: the limitation of claims data, the patient workflow process and poor data visualization--the latter cited as the top flaw. "If we want to educate and activate patients, why do data still look like this?" Rao said, noting that there is little benefit in providing patients with "low-value" data that isn't easy to understand.

"There are high school web developers who can juice up these visuals to make them slick and compelling, and college pre-meds who can translate these graphs into English. We simply must get better."

The study's findings fall in line with some notable healthcare leaders' takes on mHealth's value.

Rao also noted that study participants weren't given the option to use their own smartphones, which likely proved burdensome for participants.

For more information:
- read the Scripps Translational Science Institute study
- read the Rao's insight