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John de Souza is president of the consumer health division of Aptus Health and the former president and CEO of mHealth app vendor MedHelp, which was acquired last year by Aptus, formerly Physicians Interactive. Aptus provides mHealth apps and online and consumer clinical resources and software for healthcare.
De Souza, who is originally from Ethiopia, has spent much of his career working with mobile health apps, wearable health devices and patient engagement strategies. He discussed with SearchHealthIT the benefits of health apps and wearable health devices and using technology to get patients involved in their healthcare.
This is the first part of a two-part Q&A.
What are the biggest benefits of patient engagement for patients, providers and even payers? How can mobile and online technologies improve patient engagement quickly, and what do these tools look like?
John de Souza: We've spent a long time looking at patient engagement. It was surprising that a lot of people, when they looked at health outcomes, didn't really put a large emphasis on patient engagement. Fundamentally, if you want to improve someone's health, it's much harder to do it if you don't engage them, especially in the area of preventive health. We found that if you get people to participate in and get actively involved in their health, and that's what engagement is about, you end up with better outcomes. It helps patients because they end up either preventing diseases or recovering quicker. It helps physicians be more productive because they see better compliance by the patients, and it helps insurance companies reduce costs. Patient engagement is critical.
One thing worth talking [about] is a lot has changed recently with the advent of mobile. Prior to mobile it was harder to engage people because it was hard to reach them at the moment they were thinking about their health. Mobile has made it much easier to reach patients. It's sort of changed that paradigm for us. Also, wearable devices have created the condition where you actually get information back as well, real-time information. Combining that data with the ability to reach patients wherever they are becomes a very powerful combination.
How can wearable health devices and mobile apps help healthcare organizations better engage patients, improve outcomes and help people self-manage their health?
De Souza: If you look at engagement on mobile, it's very, very high. It's overtaken what people do on the Internet. It challenges the amount of time people spend watching TV as well. So people have migrated naturally to doing a lot with the mobile device. And if you look at what the apps can do, the apps give the ability to get in front of people on the device they have with them and provide data as well as information, in a compelling, easy-to-consume manner. It's a great way to get notifications to people exactly when you need to reach them. Also, the same [way] games or other apps [are] compelling on mobile devices, the computer makes health apps a lot more engaging. Where wearables really help is to personalize the data for the end user. You really want to get some feel about how they are doing. An example is how we do that in the app My Diet Diary, on nutrition, where you go into and pull from a Jawbone or Fitbit or different types of devices to understand what's happening on a daily basis and take data back in and personalize the data and get back to them about nutrition, diet and fitness.
To refer to a use case you've written about in terms of another one of your own company's apps, how can a mobile app for pregnant women help more than a bricks and mortar hospital support group?
De Souza: When you look at a lot of support groups at hospitals, they end up meeting with people periodically. When you really want to have a large impact, the question becomes what happens in between those meetings? Mobile apps … to bridge you in between meetings … are exactly what allow you to continuously meet people. An [Aptus] app called I'm Expecting allows people to enter data about the pregnancy and get a lot of useful information back. But it takes it to another level as well. It allows you to crowdsource symptoms. So if a woman is in the 20th week of pregnancy, and is interested in knowing how women her age are dealing with the symptoms they're experiencing, she can go on the app and crowdsource that information and compare what she's experiencing to all of the other people. And that's very powerful. It doesn't undermine those in-person meetings. It helps in between those meetings and whenever you need the help.
How can technology, particularly mobile technology, play a role in providing the emotional component that is an integral part of being a patient?
De Souza: We talk a lot about emotional engagement. And part of what we do, which I refer to as "communities," is provide the ability to connect with people who are going through similar things. The reason mobile is powerful is it gives you a conduit to connect to a large number of other people. So we have a lot of pregnancy communities, for example, that cover a full array of choices. We have communities based on the month of due date, communities based on the age of the mother. We can find people who are in similar circumstances, so you can share experiences. That shared experience in connecting with other people is what allows you to build that emotional connection. We also find that photos and videos are very powerful to drive emotional engagement. If you have pregnant mothers sharing pictures of themselves, pictures of their ultrasounds that creates a special bond as well.
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