How Healthcare Mobile Apps Can Improve Patient Care

The country is in a healthcare crisis, and mobile technology may be part of the solution. The crisis is the burden of chronic conditions. A report from the Rand Corporation found that 3 in 5 Americans have at least 1 chronic condition, and 2 of 5 Americans have at least two. [1] Chronic conditions cause the majority of mortality and morbidity in the country, and the economic costs are heft, too. Medical care for chronic diseases accounts for 9 of 10 healthcare dollars spent, or nearly $3 trillion annually, [2] and lost productivity costs the economy over $1 billion more each year. However, these devastating health outcomes and overwhelming costs are considered largely preventable, since most chronic conditions can be prevented or managed to reduce their effects.

Currently, healthcare systems tend to treat the sickest few with expensive treatments, while falling short on primary, secondary, and tertiary preventive measures for those with chronic conditions who could benefit. At the same time, there is a shortage in healthcare providers which is expected to grow in coming years. [3]

Until recently, all of healthcare took place via face-to-face interactions, such as in hospitals and clinics or in patients’ homes. Natural limitations with this model include cost of healthcare providers and facilities as well as delays when expanding coverage. From the patient’s perspective, problems include delayed care due to shortages in providers, the need to make appointments in advance according to the providers’ schedules, and the need for often-lengthy commutes.

Mobile technology has the potential to transform the healthcare industry. Mobile apps are a branch of mobile health that can potentially complement the role of providers by improving patients’ ability to manage their conditions in an infinitely scalable fashion. The bottom line is that mobile apps can improve health and lower costs, so everyone wins.

 

Use of Mobile Technology in Patient Care


Mobile technology has become nearly ubiquitous in healthcare. Patients, providers, and payers all use mobile technology, often involving mobile phones, computers and tablets, wearable devices, and, in hospitals, radio frequency identification. Doctors may be able to diagnose diseases and monitor patients remotely, access information via the internet from databases and colleagues, communicate with patients using patient care portals, and collaborate with specialists anywhere in the world synchronously or asynchronously. Many patients can email their providers and have access to appointments via telephone or video chat. 

Artificial intelligence (AI), or automatically-generated analysis and conclusions as an approximation of human thought, has been used for decades in healthcare and already has many applications in health technology. In radiology, for example, AI can assist in detecting differences in images that a human eye might miss. It is common in guiding surgeries as well. As part of telehealth, AI may tell providers when a patient may need care based on patient input. Lark AI includes this application, and many others, of AI.

Smartphones can be used for many aspects of health, and healthcare mobile apps are gaining popularity. Patients may text message their providers, or opt to receive text messages from providers or as a part of other programs, as in the well-known Text4Baby program from the Department of Health and Human Services that provides pregnant women and new mothers with health information.[4] Top healthcare mobile apps among providers may improve workflows, coordinate patient care, assist with patient triage, and, together with wearable monitors or sensors, alert hospital staff to urgent patient situations.

Smartphone health applications are available for everything from counting steps and logging meals to managing medications and contacting healthcare providers. Apps are available for tracking health conditions, educating patients, reminding users to drink more water or take medications, and almost anything else. 

Lark is a mobile healthcare application and health coach. Powered by AI, this healthcare app for patients offers unlimited education, goal-setting, and real-time feedback on behaviors related to wellness or chronic disease management. Without live involvement, patients receive coaching on health behaviors such as lifestyle changes and monitoring conditions. Patients can log and track diet, weight, physical activity, medications, and blood pressure (in Lark Hypertenion Care) or blood glucose (in Lark Diabetes Care).

 

Benefits of Healthcare Mobile Apps in Patient Care


Smartphone apps in healthcare can benefit patients, doctors, caregivers, health coaches, and payors. In fact, everyone involved in the system can benefit. Healthcare apps have the potential to improve health outcomes, reduce costs, increase access to healthcare, and save time.

Well-designed and properly used mobile apps in healthcare industry may have the following effects, each presented with an example.

  • Better quality of care. Doctors may use apps that offer quick access to information so they can make a more informed decision about diagnosis or treatment.

  • Fewer mistakes. Mobile healthcare apps may alert providers who are about to prescribe a medication that could interact with a medication that a patient is already on.

  • Increased patient engagement. Healthcare apps for patients may remind patients, via notifications, to take care of their condition, whether the goal is to lose weight, lower blood pressure, or lower risk for diabetes.

  • Improved interaction. An app such as Lark may suggest when, according to AI, patients should contact a provider based on a potentially dangerous blood sugar or blood pressure reading, rather than patients avoiding contacting a provider or contacting providers needlessly.

  • More efficient workflows. Apps can offer care management and billing workflow solutions that are quicker and lower in cost.

  • Personalized approach. Digital technology such as AI can allow mobile healthcare apps to serve many people without losing personalization, and Lark increases personalization the more the patient uses the app.

  • Increased access. Remote patients may be able to attend appointments remotely rather than driving hours to the nearest clinic or hospital.

Together, these effects can lead to lower costs.

 

Most Popular Types of Healthcare Apps


Categories of healthcare apps include wellness apps and chronic disease management apps apps. The most popular types of mobile health applications may reflect the greatest current needs in healthcare.

Types of wellness lifestyle coaching apps are as wide as the term “wellness” is vague. Apps can promote meditation, hydration, physical activity, and healthy eating. Many of the wellness apps are a response to the current obesity crisis. Obesity affects one-third of the adult US population and another third of adults are overweight. At an estimated annual cost of $150 billion, obesity is a risk factor for many of the most common and expensive chronic diseases, including hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes costs the U.S. nearly $300 billion annually and affects 1 in 10 adults.

Wellness apps for weight loss and chronic disease prevention may:

  • Provide education and assist patients in making healthier food choices, losing weight, and increasing physical activity, while offering 24/7 personalized support.

  • Complement efforts and relieve shortages of healthcare providers and wellness coaches.

  • Offer payers seamless deployment and enrollment, scalability, and ease of use.

While wellness is a focus for some, chronic disease management is a necessity for many others. Nearly two-thirds of American adults have at least 1 chronic condition, and 90% of healthcare spending is on chronic conditions. With healthcare providers in short supply and patients receiving the most care when they get to critical situations rather than in preventive cases, chronic disease management apps may have a role. 

Chronic disease management apps may:

  • Support patients in important lifestyle changes that can help manage conditions.

  • Promote monitoring and medication adherence.

  • Facilitate data storage and transmission.

 

Mobile Health Apps Are the Future


Healthcare should continue to adopt technology and use apps such as Lark to allow for the provision of high levels of patient support. Such apps make chronic illnesses prevention easier on a national scale by introducing prevention programs that everyone can enroll in from a smartphone 

When choosing an app for covered populations, decision-makers should dig deeper than reading a list of the advertised features and investigate the app’s quality. Demonstrated results, such as weight loss in a wellness or diabetes prevention app, or blood pressure reduction in a hypertension app, are crucial. Healthcare apps should be fully HIPAA-compliant and backed by experienced experts in health. Finally, if it is to be used in a large population, the app needs to be scalable while continuing to provide personalized care to each patient.

 

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Reference

  1.  Buttorff C, Ruder T, Bauman M. Multiple Chronic Conditions in the United States. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp.; 2017. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/tools/TL200/TL221/RAND_TL221.pdf.

  2.  National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm. Reviewed February 2, 2017. Accessed February 4, 2019.

  3.  IHS Markit Ltd. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2016 to 2030. Association of American Medical Colleges. March 2018. https://aamc-black.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/85/d7/85d7b689-f417-4ef0-97fb-ecc129836829/aamc_2018_workforc+e_projections_update_april_11_2018.pdf

  4.  https://www.text4baby.org/

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health