The hardest part of mHealth

By Government Health IT Staff
10:24 AM

As is so often the case with emerging IT, technology is not the missing link in mobile healthcare. Nor are federal regulation or even affordable products.

The steepest obstacle, instead, is patients’ reluctance to use mHealth tools routinely.

Mobile health offerings are not lacking — if anything there are perhaps too many apps and devices to choose from. Tens of thousands of apps, in fact, have been created to track, display and share patients’ health data, and innovative solutions now offer remote monitoring, consultation, and many more services.
As of late, even the old-guard IT companies are jumping into the fray with Apple, BlackBerry, IBM and Google introducing or pre-announcing products for both end-users and enterprise.

But patients have not rushed to use mobile healthcare technologies. 

“One crucial group remains unsold: the patients,” wrote Nanette Byrnes in MIT Technology Review. “Though one in 10 Americans owns the type of tracking device made by Nike, Fitbit, and Jawbone to monitor steps taken, quality of sleep, or calorie intake, more than half of those devices are no longer in use, according to Endeavour Partners, a consulting firm. Of the 100,000-plus mobile health applications available for smartphones, very few have been downloaded even 500 times. More than two-thirds of people who downloaded one have stopped using it, according to a 2012 study done for the global accounting firm PWC.”

One reason patients are not yet buying into mHealth is that the technology is often poorly designed and lacks the ease of use that would motivate patients to tap them, Byrnes said.

“While there is a great deal of interest in mHealth apps and enthusiasm for their use, they have yet to be mainstreamed as part of healthcare provision, and in many respects are still viewed as a novelty,” explained Karen Taylor, research director at Deloitte’s UK Centre for Health Solutions in a blog post. “Part of the problem is that patients face a confusing array of mHealth apps with little guidance on their quality or advice and support from their doctors. While doctors can see the potential benefits of mHealth apps, they remain wary of formally recommending them to patients.”

But by all accounts, new apps are being created every day that offer patients innovative and valuable ways to achieve good health.

“Another problem is motivation,” Byrnes wrote. “Many people simply don’t seem to like using these apps and devices. It is clear, though, that a well-designed mobile health system can help if patients use it.”

That right there may just be the hardest part: Ultimately, patients must decide to participate in their own well-being.