Can mobile health apps improve patient health? 7 report findings

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Mobile health apps and wearable devices have surged, with the potential to track patients' health in between physician visits. These devices can improve patient health and offer an opportunity to incentivize healthy behaviors, according to a May 7 report published in Harvard Business Review.

Researchers used data from hospitals, physicians, pharmacists and mobile health platforms to examine if a major mHealth app in Asia persuaded people to modify their lifestyle and reduce hospital visits and medical expenses over time.

Seven study findings:

  1. The adoption of mobile health apps led to improved short-term metrics, such as reduced blood glucose levels. The mobile health apps also improved long-term metrics, such as a reduction in hospital visits and medical expenses.

  2. Patients who adopted the mobile health app increased their levels of exercise, consumed healthier food, increased their daily steps and slept longer daily.

  3. Users of mobile health devices and apps can become more autonomous in self-regulating their behavior. This suggests that these devices should be subsidized by government agencies and insurance providers to cut the cost of hospital visits over time, the report said.

  4. Generic messages with guidance to users were 18 percent more effective than personalized messages at reducing blood glucose levels over time. Some mobile health users felt the personalized messages were intrusive and annoying, which demotivated them and led to lower levels of wellness activities.

  5. Personalized messages were more effective in reducing in-person doctor visits and replacing them with telehealth services. Post-experimental surveys revealed that the accuracy of the personalized messages made patients comfortable with adopting telehealth services deployed by the platform. Thus, they were substituting their offline physician interactions with online ones.

  6. The report suggests that healthcare communication teams run market research in their community to see how personalization affects patient preferences.

  7. Health insurance companies could utilize mobile health devices and apps as an opportunity to personalize premiums. It could allow insurers to reward consumers who make the effort to exercise more, eat healthier and sleep longer with lower insurance premiums, the report found.

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