Sloughing through July, reading about federal spending has become tedious. No matter on which side of the political divide they stand, a recent poll showed 91% of voters are outright disgusted with Congress and the current federal fiscal debacle. Any talk of the use of federal funds can potentially become politicized as waste by one side or the other, with barking heads on radio and television putting every last red cent under the microscope and debating its merit.
In the health IT world, mHealth isn’t nearly as toxic a topic of debate. Just the same, in our conversations with CIOs and health officials there’s a wait-and-see attitude toward mHealth, which seems to be more sizzle than substance — especially when one looks under the hood of an app and starts analyzing the HIPAA privacy compliance issues a provider needs to take into account when setting up an mHealth project.
Bravely combining the two — federal spending and mHealth — the American Diabetes Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) have joined forces to combat diabetes in urban areas. The pilot project involves an mHealth app rolled out in Detroit and New Orleans, two of ONC’s 17 Beacon Communities that received grants to serve as test beds for cutting-edge health IT deployments.
It makes a lot of sense, because low-income patients don’t always have computers and Web connections, but more often than not, they do possess smartphones. Sadly, their diabetes rates typically run higher than the general population’s, too.
The mHealth app, jointly developed and deployed by the three agencies and vendor Voxiva, aims to provide smartphone owners in the Crescent City and Southeast Michigan beacon communities with solid information on how to recognize diabetes, and where to get help managing it.
Across the country, Beacon Communities are using technology to improve health care delivery in their local communities,” said Aaron McKethan, ONC Beacon Community Program director. “The mobile health campaigns planned for Detroit and New Orleans are geared toward helping more patients understand their risk factors for disease and connecting them to their doctors or clinics and other community resources to better manage their health.”
If successful, this mHealth project could help make a dent in all this Medicare and Medicaid spending about which Capital blowhards rant on and on. Unlike the blowhards, it’s refreshing to see this group of federal health authorities putting their heads together to improve the common good, and, er, how exactly did the Constitution put it? Oh yeah, general welfare. That’s a far cry from what the politicians are doing right now — drawing federal paychecks to stand in suits in front of cameras and blame the other guy for what looks to be a total fiscal stalemate.
Maybe, if this ounce of prevention and awareness-building of diabetes data among vulnerable populations does translate to pounds of cure, the CDC, ONC and ADA will roll it out nationwide with provable cuts in federal health care claims. If that happens, no one will argue the merits of how these HIT grants were used.