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Hospitals can't afford to ignore mHealth

May 14th, 2014

by Jenn Riggle

Most of us are familiar with mobile health apps like Fitbit, Jawbone and MyFitnessPal, which help people track their activity levels and count calories. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Faced with stiff penalties for unnecessary readmissions, hospitals turn to mHealth and remote patient monitoring devices to track cardiac rhythms, glucose levels and vital signs, and identify health issues early to prevent expensive repeat trips to the hospital.

Yet, according to a recent healthsystemCIO.com survey, 62.5 percent of hospital CIOs report that their hospitals haven't implemented a remote monitoring system. Why? Because hospitals juggle the upgrade to Stage 2 Meaningful Use criteria with ICD-10 compliance (which was just delayed until October 2015). As a result, mHealth becomes a "nice to have" versus a "must have."

However, hospitals need to change the way they view mHealth. Here's why:

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  • High readmission rates: According to the federal government, one in five elderly patients is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. Too often, this is a result of patient confusion over medications, inadequate follow-up with primary care physicians or a family's inability to deal with home care. mHealth and remote patient monitoring can help change this by identifying health issues when they are most treatable to avoid an expensive hospital stay.
  • Successful pilot programs: Hospitals and technology companies conduct pilot programs to remotely monitor patients after they're discharged. For example, Zephyr Technology recently completed a two-year congestive heart failure trial in partnership with Qualcomm Life, Verizon Wireless, National Institutes of Health, Indian Health Services and Flagstaff Hospital in Arizona, which lead to an increase in time between hospital visits and lower costs.
  • Readmissions research: A recent Mayo Clinic study reported that using a smartphone app during cardiac rehabilitation can reduce hospital readmissions. The researchers studied 44 patients and found only 20 percent who attended cardiac rehab and used the app were readmitted to the hospital or visited the emergency department within 90 days, compared with 60 percent of those who did not use the mobile app.
  • Electronic health record integration: The fact that popular electronic health records now integrate data from remote monitoring devices demonstrates that they're gaining mainstream acceptance. For example, Practice Fusion (known for its cloud-based electronic health record) recently announced strategic partnerships with two companies that will incorporate data from remote monitoring systems into their EHR, making it easier for physicians to review trended glucose and insulin levels, as well as ECG strips, during routine office visits.
  • Population health: mHealth technology also supports population health initiatives by providing people with information to help them manage chronic health conditions, such as such as diabetes, heart disease and COPD. For example, diabetic teens that received weekly, customized text messages related to their medication plan were more likely to adhere to treatment. Recently, New York's Montefiore Medical Center gave diabetic teens a monitoring device to wear before a major surgery. Information about the teen's condition is sent to caregivers, who can send a text message to the teen in case they need to make an adjustment to their diet or other action to prepare for their procedure.

While hospitals have many technology priorities, they need to rethink the role mHealth plays in their care management plans--and their budgets. Let's hope CIOs can find room in their budgets for mHealth. They can't afford not to.

Jenn Riggle is a vice president at Weber Shandwick Worldwide based in Washington, District of Columbia and member of its healthcare practice.

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