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Improving Patient Outcomes Through mHealth: A Review of The 2012 mHealth Summit

Ron Kane

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Are we finally at a place where information technology can help improve patient outcomes and bend the cost curve in healthcare at the same time?

In December, Intouch and Allora teams traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 4th Annual mHealth Summit. The event spanned three days and attracted over 4,000 attendees, representing 53 countries around the world!

The mHealth Opportunity Before Us

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, opened the event with an attention-grabbing presentation that defined the challenges and opportunities before us in healthcare. Roughly half of the $16 trillion national debt is related in some way to healthcare. It contributes significantly to the economic pressure plaguing our country and countries around the world. Mr. Bertolini believes we have an opportunity to leverage innovative technologies for significant impact on the financial wellbeing of our nation. We have to make it easier for both caregivers and patients to access information and self-advocate.

"Convenience is the new quality," Bertolini said to punctuate the point.

The mHealth Summit offered three days of sessions from experts in virtually every interest area in healthcare technology — from telecommunications and big data to the latest devices and patient continuum of care innovations. Attendees divided their time between keynote sessions covering broad healthcare topics, specific break-out sessions on themed tracks, exploring the latest innovations on the exhibit floor, or attending a variety of professional networking opportunities.

A few key points stood out:

  • There was a strong belief by those attending and presenting that mobile technology has the opportunity to significantly decrease healthcare costs.
  • The ability to improve patient outcomes and create cost leverage is still in its infancy.
  • The technology is already available in large part. But collaboration between those collecting data and those building solutions is critical for driving value for both improving outcomes and saving money.
  • The key to success will be to make it easy for the patient and caregiver.

Building an Extraordinary mHealth App

Key topics in the breakout sessions included innovations in mHealth technology, standards and interoperability concerns, and mobile applications.

Intouch Solutions’ own David Windhausen spoke about what makes an extraordinary mHealth app.

During his presentation, Windhausen shared his premise that extraordinary mHealth apps are defined by their ability to deliver both value and service. But judging value is not about the technology; it’s about the app’s ability to provide knowledge, encouragement, support, community and peace of mind. In short, can the app deliver on the promise of providing something that the user never even knew they needed before they started using the app to manage their condition?

"Can the app deliver on the promise of providing something that the user never even knew they needed before they started using the app to manage their condition?"

To do this, Windhausen suggested we focus on the patient journey as a way of grounding the features and functionality we incorporate into an mHealth app:

For instance:

  • The early stages of some patient journeys are centered on understanding and researching symptoms and may not be good targets for mHealth apps.
  • However, after diagnosis, patients are searching for opportunities to connect with others experiencing similar life circumstances, either for social voyeurism or social interaction. Therefore, mHealth apps that are focused on delivering value to patients in this stage of their journey should incorporate features that promote social engagement and knowledge transfer to trust-based systems.
  • As patients move further along in their journey, other concepts such as passive data collection, progress indication and encouragement become important value propositions for mHealth apps.
  • Finally, as patients enter the final stage of their journey of lifestyle management, extraordinary mHealth apps must deliver on the promise to integrate seamlessly into all of the other tools that the patient has adopted.

Windhausen also noted that extraordinary mHealth apps have ecosystems surrounding them that include promoting the app, monitoring customer/user acquisition, establishing a bi-directional relationship with users, and leveraging user relationships to co-create and innovate the next version.

In short, building a great app is not a "one and done" proposition; rather, it is a long-term commitment to the patients it will serve.

Back at the mHealth Summit

Away from the conference rooms, attendees walked the exhibit hall floor where they could chat with over 400 exhibitors about their new devices, services, applications and other related solutions for the mobile health industry. The variety of innovative mHealth solutions and enabling technologies offered something for everyone — from the general practitioner to big pharma company.

Maybe we’ll see you there next year. It will be interesting to see how far the promise of mHealth will have moved forward.

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