Will mobile apps be the key to solving the chronic care conundrum?
There’s certainly no shortage of challenges facing the U.S. healthcare system these days, but perhaps the most pressing is how to best care for patients suffering from chronic disease. According to a recent article by Laura Landro, published in the Wall Street Journal, approximately 50% of all adults suffer from at least one chronic illness. These conditions account for about 70% of all deaths, and a whopping 86% of U.S. healthcare costs.
Effectively preventing and/or treating these chronic conditions requires a great deal of oversight from doctors, as many patients struggle to adhere to treatment regimens over time. Unfortunately, as chronic illness patient populations surge, physicians have been unable to keep up, and as a result, patients tend to “slip back into poor health habits, fail to take their medications correctly — and end up in the emergency room.”
Mobile Tech to the Rescue
In order to address this growing problem, many providers are turning to mobile technologies for help. I’d call this solution “innovative,” but mobile’s role in healthcare (and our day-to-day lives, for that matter) is becoming so ubiquitous that it’s really only logical the industry is turning in this direction.
Landro explains that while there has been something of a “national obsession” with health apps and fitness trackers for some time now, these platforms typically haven’t connected patients directly with medical providers. She cites a lack of evidence backing the notion that they’re capable of improving health outcomes for patients suffering from chronic conditions — unless their personal doctors are directly involved.
However, new studies suggest that mobile health technologies (mHealth) may actually be capable of helping patients with some of the country’s most prevalent chronic conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and lung disease. New apps allow doctors to monitor and communicate with their patients remotely, which is helping them influence patient behavior and improve adherence to a given treatment plan or lifestyle recommendation. Hospitals and medical practices already leveraging these technologies are finding they’re able to improve the quality of care and outcomes for chronically ill patients at a significantly lower cost than the traditional approach.
mHealth’s Additional Benefits
Ultimately, the goal here is to empower patients to manage their conditions on a day-to-day basis — with appropriate guidance and encouragement from their doctors, of course. But according to Landro, the data insights provided by mHealth apps allow providers to play an even more impactful role in this process.
Doctors can gather a wide variety of patient data, including a patient’s vitals, symptoms, and day-to-day behavior. These insights make it easier for them to improve a patient’s adherence, or to intervene proactively if complications related to their condition emerge. As Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Vice President of Connected Health at Partners HealthCare, puts it, “Digital medicine allows us to get into your life in a personal way, deliver interventions continuously and inspire you to be healthy in a way an office-based practice can’t.”
Mobile continues to play a larger and larger role in healthcare — whether it’s patients conducting their own research on their conditions and treatment options, then booking their appointments directly through their smartphones; or asthmatics (and their doctors) using apps connected to inhalers with sensor technologies to monitor their breathing and avoid potentially life threatening asthma attacks. For years, how to effectively treat chronic illness has been a puzzle that the medical community has struggled to solve. Now, we finally have a viable, cost-effective solution staring us in the face — I think it’s high time we embrace it.