For many of us, there’s no replacement for an unrushed, face-to-face consultation with our own health provider, someone familiar with our medical history. That’s still the gold standard of health care interactions.
But there are times that those visits are impractical and sometimes even impossible. The silver lining: innovations arising from technological ingenuity, pandemic isolation and market necessity have brought some advantages that health care has until now never been able to offer. Mobile health (known in the industry as “mhealth”) apps are exploding onto the scene and improving costs, access to care and quality of care.
Ultimately, their use can lead to improved patient outcomes.
Who’s using these mhealth apps?
Workforces are getting younger as boomers retire. Every year, there are more digital natives (people who grew up with computers and mobile phones since birth) in the workforce who have less hesitancy to embrace new technologies. Today’s workers aren’t just comfortable with telehealth, wearable health devices, patient portals and electronic communications about their health care, they expect these conveniences to be integrated into their health plans and treatment regimens.
The mobile health apps market in 2022 is estimated to be $99 billion. By 2025, that’s expected to grow to $337.2 billion. And one study has the market estimated to reach $1.9 trillion by 2029. It’s big business, and only getting bigger, fast. Health care insurance has been catching up, now offering numerous telehealth and mobile health products; that trend, too, will only grow as digital health care transforms traditional systems of care.
Of course, the growth toward adopting more mhealth and telehealth tech has been happening for decades. But no one anticipated the effect a long pandemic would have on users’ digital health adoption and comfort using all manner of online tools, from chronic care management apps to online grocery shopping. Suddenly, patients worldwide began having virtual visits with providers, or for the first time using apps and wearable home monitoring devices that transmit important patient data like vital signs, blood pressure spikes, glucose levels or sleep quality to their healthcare team.
Managing chronic conditions
Chronic condition management is an area that’s become much easier thanks to these new digital tools. For years, people with diabetes have been urged to keep a log or journal of their glucose levels and other measures to share at their next visit. But now it’s so much easier to record and transmit that information. Having an app that’s available wherever and whenever patients have their phone is an enormous advantage over the old write-it-down-and-bring-your-notebook-to-your-appointment method.
Using apps, it’s easy to record the data in a few taps (some wearable tech like smart watches and fitness trackers record biometrics automatically), and the health technology can detect patterns, trends and symptoms in real time. If the user opts to share the data with their providers, the captured information can drive treatment and guide providers in managing their condition. The same is true for people with heart disease, cancer and other critical conditions.
Digital health information hubs live at the heart of it all. Patient and member portals empower users to have clear, 24/7 access to their personalized health care plan details, medical history, prescriptions and dosages, test results, electronic Explanations of Benefits, claims status and all kinds of information that not so long ago was much harder to access. That information today is always right there in users’ pockets or purses, a few clicks away. Health portals that are robust and simple to navigate are hard to overvalue.
Another kind of portal enjoying a rise in popularity is the wellness portal, either integrated with the patient/member portal, or as a standalone app. People can connect to robust wellness and wellbeing information, sign up for personal wellness coaching, track their nutrition, participate in solo challenges and group competitions, earn points for incentives from their employer and generally pursue their personal wellness goals through the privacy and convenience of their mobile phones.
Behavioral health is another important area employing digital tools creatively to extend access to care and prevent mental or substance use disorder crises. People suffering or worried about their loved ones can use behavioral health apps to ask discreet questions, report symptoms, reach crisis hotlines or get links to free or low-cost counseling or other resources. And millions of people use other behavioral health apps in preventive, positive ways like encouraging mindfulness and calmness with guided meditations, breathing exercises or simple gratitude prompts. In a rural state like Arkansas, where access can be an issue, digital behavioral health can be a much-needed lifeline.
And women’s health is benefitting from increasing adoption of mhealth apps. Many women regularly use apps to track their fertility, guide them through the stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding, manage medications or to keep track of when they are due for annual exams or mammograms.
Expanding rural access to healthcare
Easy access to care has long been a leading barrier to Arkansans’ health. But monitoring patients at home and providing care remotely has never been easier. Now, using different devices and apps, providers can check a screen to see in real time what’s happening with a patient’s blood sugar levels, heart rate, oxygen and other important measures without the patients needing to leave their favorite recliner. Providers can teleconference with patients or each other and consult with experts around the state or nation. This improved access to care and expertise for patients and health professionals is an exciting development in our state where few rural areas have enough facilities and providers—especially specialists—to monitor their patients.
One caveat to keep in mind is that as helpful and flexible as these mhealth apps can be, they are only useful where users have reliable internet or mobile connectivity. We predict the explosive growth of mhealth apps and other digital health tools will be a driver of building out high-speed broadband internet throughout the state’s rural countryside. When Arkansas has that in place, every Arkansan will have countless digital tools at their fingertips, ready to improve their healthcare experience, delivery and outcomes.
If your workforce is already connected online, there’s no reason to wait; give them robust health plans with the online and mobile tools so they do your employees and your business the most good now. It’s not just your business that reaps the benefits. Mobile health can improve our entire healthcare system through extending access, encouraging efficiency, enabling communication, saving costs and enhancing the quality of services provided. There’s a world of digital health possibility already out there ready to be adopted. Just connect to it.