Taking mobile health to heart

February is American Heart Month, a time to reflect on the fact that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. An estimated 630,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, a sobering fact especially when you consider that people can greatly reduce their risks through lifestyle changes and medication--two areas that lend themselves easily to the strengths of mobile health technologies.

Given the nationwide problem of heart disease (or perhaps epidemic), the healthcare community would be wise to leverage mHealth in the fight against this life-threatening condition that claims far too many lives. It's no mystery what people need to do to prevent the onset of this preventable disease. Making changes for a healthy heart requires the things we know all too well: don't smoke, eat healthy, exercise regularly, drink in moderation, watch your weight, have medical checkups and reduce stress. 

With the widespread proliferation of mobile devices, wireless technology is putting the tools needed to help people adopt heart healthy living into the hands of consumers. Want to quit smoking? There's an app for that. Want to eat healthier and exercise more? Last year, a study revealed that mobile app self-monitoring of physical activity and dietary intake among overweight adults participating in a weight loss program are more effective than traditional methods. 

In addition, daily text messaging may be a useful self-monitoring tool for weight control. Also, countless studies indicate that mHealth supporting exercise prescription interventions through self-monitoring of biometrics and physical activity can be effective in reducing cardio-metabolic risk factors. Need to reduce your stress? Mobile biofeedback apps using sensors track brain waves to show meditative and cognitive states.

However, when lifestyle changes aren't sufficient, medications can be very effective in helping people live longer, healthier lives. To combat the risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, medication can help delay or even prevent the onset of heart disease. And, for patients who already have heart disease, medication can help slow down the progression of the disease as well as prevent serious complications that can result from the condition. 

The key is to actually take the medication at the times and in the dosages prescribed by a doctor. Medication non-adherence is a serious problem in this country that is very costly both in terms of lives and financially for our healthcare system. The good news is that mHealth in the form of medication alerts, reminders and tracking programs have proven very effective in increasing medication adherence rates.

Don't wait for coronary artery disease--the most common type of heart disease--to take hold. The time to act is now, before you have a heart attack. Your smartphone is a good place to start. - Greg (@Slabodkin)