Who should pay for personal mHealth technology?



Well, I did it. I finally bought one of those wearable mobile sensor devices that tracks your every movement. The thing is like Santa Claus--it knows when I'm sleeping, it knows when I'm awake, it knows when I took the dog for an extra-long walk and it knows when I was watching the Olympics from the comfort of my couch. (And no, vicarious swimming does not count as exercise.)

I've been wearing the body monitor for just two weeks and already I want to impress it. I don't want my name in its naughty column, so the dog's getting longer walks, I'm taking the stairs more often, choosing the farthest space in parking lots and, I'll admit, occasionally breaking into spontaneous dance. 

I've had my eye on these kinds of gadgets for a while now and I would have purchased one earlier, but I don't have an unlimited budget and they can be costly. (I'm not so much a Luddite as I am a cheap Yankee.)

So when I found a device and accompanying online tracking software that fit my budget, I had my credit card in hand about one second later.

Although this model was a relative "deal" for me, it's still going to be out of reach for many people who would benefit from it. 

There has never been such an imperative for the healthcare industry to motivate people to take better care of their own health and to make better choices--manage their chronic diseases, control their weight, quit smoking and move more.

Healthcare has to cut costs. And one of the best ways to do that is to get Americans healthier, to tackle chronic diseases and the factors that lead to them and to keep people out of the hospital with preventative care.

But who will pay for the technologies that could help accomplish those goals?

There's an argument to be made that it should be patients. Writing a check to join a weight loss program or to pay for a gym membership every month is a way to take ownership and to be accountable for your own actions.

But maybe, in this case, patients could use a little bit of help.

Surely hospitals, accountable care organizations, private and public payers, community groups and even vendors could work together to figure out a way to lower one of the biggest barriers to consumer mHealth adoption: cost.

Maybe vendors could partner with big name retailers who can sell large volume at lower prices. Maybe payers could give out mHealth scholarships. Or they could cover a percent of the cost of these devices, with a co-pay so that patients have skin in the game, as it were. Providers could help, too, by prescribing mHealth technology to their patients--a nudge from a primary care physician carries a lot of weight.

Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. And why shouldn't the healthcare industry be the one to play Santa?

What do you think? Perhaps the price of personal body sensors and other mHealth technologies will ultimately come down. But in the meantime, what's the best way to make the technology more widely accessible to the folks who most need them? - Gienna

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