September 24, 2012

The Doctor in Your Pocket

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility.

One of the strongest trends in today’s healthcare environment is the significant rise in the number of mobile communication devices for accessing health services and information – also known as mHealth.

A recent study found that nearly 17 million consumers were accessing health information on mobile devices in 2011, representing a 125-percent increase from 2010. What’s more, 56 percent of physicians used smartphones and 25 percent used tablets for clinical work last year. These statistics leave experts predicting that healthcare and medical app downloads will reach 44 million this year, and 142 million by 2016.

In terms of investment growth, $500 million flowed into mobile health companies last year, compared to $233 million in 2010. In the next few years, efficacy studies will no doubt lead to greater awareness and increased investment in mHealth strategies. 

A Cure for an Ailing Healthcare System

Health-related smartphone apps streamline the flow of information between health plans, physicians, and patients, facilitating one-on-one exchanges that close gaps in care, create quicker care response, and improve the overall healthcare environment. In fact, a number of mobile website capabilities include access to:

  • physician directories, including directions to physicians’ offices
  • claims history
  • eligibility and cost-sharing requirements for a doctor visit
  • drug prices of nearby pharmacies, including generic and therapeutic alternatives
  • self-diagnosis tools, including symptom and disease lookup
  • daily wellness self-management tools, including trackers for achieving health-related goals
  • information regarding a specific health-related condition
  • reminders and alerts regarding prescription drug compliance
  • options for in-home monitoring and in-home care

Nearly 90 percent of surveyed physicians would like their patients to use mobile devices to monitor or track certain health indicators at home, according to a report from Float Mobile Learning, a mobile technology consulting firm. Other key findings of surveyed physicians include the fact that 56 percent use mobile devices to help them make faster clinical decisions. And 40 percent said mobile devices help them reduce the amount of time they spend on administrative work.

As Baby Boomers reach retirement age, and as healthcare costs continue to rise, mHealth represents a high-tech revolution that has the potential to relieve the cost burden of healthcare and the growing demand for higher quality, patient-centric medical treatment.

A Critical Tool for Specialty Drugs

The growing adoption of mHealth dovetails with another significant trend in healthcare: the rise of specialty pharmaceuticals, which are expected to comprise eight of the top 10 drugs in 2014. In general, specialty medications are administered by a physician in an outpatient setting – an expense often embedded within a claim – so it’s difficult to determine the price and accuracy of a medical pharmacy claims cost. Mobile technology can give patients the ability to identify the potential cost to them for services and medications delivered in various care settings, which will help reduce the costs of care because more patients have increased liability for payments with high deductible plans.

Health plans and pharmacy benefit managers will need to begin leveraging their formulary and benefit plan systems to allow mobile access by their members/patients and alert them of potentially higher costs.

Service providers with expertise in mobile technology strategies will be able to provide web-based platforms – not just apps – that automate the labor-intensive processes of gathering, integrating, and accessing drug claim histories and formulary data. In turn, these platforms will drive personal notifications regarding drugs that require prior authorization, tailored messaging to increase the effectiveness of consumer engagement communications, and web-based reporting apps that measure changes in pharmacy utilization and prescription drug adherence for chronically ill patient populations. Automated personal mobile app services will most certainly increase patient satisfaction, and save time and money across the healthcare delivery system.

Thinking Ahead

Savvy healthcare professionals, facility administrators, health plans, and employers are getting the mobile message and are exploring ways to leverage this technology. It’s critical that they find and implement mobile technology solutions that not only access integrated information systems, but do so by allowing all smartphone devices – Android, iPhone (News - Alert), RIM, Microsoft – to have a consistent and secure user experience. Mobile devices are becoming more pervasive in medical settings as tools for accessing medical information in a way that can be integrated with other clinical systems. Mobile connectivity should enable healthcare professionals to review a patient’s medical history, update patient information, check for drug interactions, schedule a follow-up and lab tests, enter billing codes and prescribe medication, all within minutes – and from the bedside, exam room, or front office – wherever and whenever needed.

The benefits of connecting the physician to the patient via mobile applications will be apparent in significantly increased patient satisfaction, better compliance and adherence, and lower care delivery costs.

Robert Oscar, R.Ph., is the founder of RxEOB (, which develops and configures private-label software applications for health plans and pharmacy benefit management companies to support their member engagement strategies

Edited by Braden Becker

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