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Mobile disease management programs boost patient engagement

As location-based functions become prevalent on mobile devices, patients and providers have an opportunity to use them for mobile disease management.

Each year, a growing number of patients start using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. As we see these devices become ubiquitous, organizations are looking for ways to leverage them into mobile disease management programs for patients who have chronic conditions. We have seen the buzzword is around engagement. How do we define and measure engagement among patients who have chronic conditions? If they are using a mobile device to learn about disease symptoms and medication side effects, are they engaged? If they are using secure messaging to communicate with other patients and healthcare providers to discuss their illness, are they engaged?

Engagement is obviously a spectrum. From the perspective of a healthcare professional, the goals are to improve patient communication, increase patient education about their condition so they can make informed decisions about self-management and treatment, and ensure that patients are adhering to their treatment plans. If a mobile disease management program can do all that, then you have succeeded in achieving patient engagement.

Patients will be able to opt in to location-based messages and alerts so that they are more aware about making informed decisions that will impact their condition.

Current mobile devices incorporate location-based sensors that could be used to help patients manage their conditions. Eventually, patients will be able to opt in to location-based messages and alerts so that they are more aware about making informed decisions that will impact their condition. For example, if a patient with diabetes enters a fast food restaurant, the mobile phone will buzz and suggest healthy food options at that restaurant. An overweight patient who has congestive heart failure will receive different dietary recommendations compared to a patient who has Type 1 diabetes. Mobile devices will generate tailored, customized alerts that are based on individual patient characteristics. All of these messages will be delivered on HIPAA-compliant platforms that provide secure, encrypted messages to avoid any compromises in personal health information.

Location-based messaging also might help patients get some exercise by prompting them to take the stairs instead of the escalators when they are in a shopping mall. Such messages may be helpful for those who are trying to lose weight or for anyone who simply wishes to live a healthier lifestyle. Location-based messages may also help patients remember to refill their medications by alerting them to nearby pharmacies and unfilled prescriptions. Or alerts may prompt patients with diabetes to schedule their yearly eye exam when they are near an optometrist.

Mobile devices also have built-in accelerometers that can detect physical activity when you carry them in your pocket. Or, some people may choose to wear activity trackers that sync with their mobile devices so that they are reminded to get up and move if they have been sedentary for a long time. These types of reminders and alerts can be especially beneficial for people who sit at a desk all day.

But fitness reminders are not only for those who are trying to lose weight or live an active lifestyle. Physical activity reminders also can get incorporated into stretching and back exercises for patients who have chronic back pain and other back-related problems. These messages can be customized and tailored as physical therapists occasionally interact with patients via mobile video conferencing to gauge how patients are performing their back exercises when they are at home. Or patients may receive reminders about their posture when they are sitting at the office.

Some people need continuous prompts while others will achieve sustainable behavior modifications after receiving some personalized intermittent feedback. Video communication that is securely delivered directly to a patient's mobile device will ensure that patients feel more connected to their providers. This level of accessibility is not available today, given that many patients need to wait several weeks to schedule an appointment with a health care professional.

Mobile patient engagement solutions in the future will incorporate all the elements of disease-specific, location-based messages and alerts; remote monitoring (through wearable technology and alerts); and video conferencing and secure messaging to remind, educate, motivate, and inform patients. These solutions will blend automation from patient-generated data and in-person interaction with health coaches, nurses, therapists and physicians.

Joseph Kim is a physician technologist who has a passion for leveraging health IT to improve public health. Dr. Kim is the founder of and is an active social media specialist. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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