As the number of health-centric applications on the market has continued to rise, it comes as no surprise that more and more of them are focusing on patient accountability. Whether you define self-care as the first step in the patient journey or the last, healthcare experts agree that holding patients accountable for their own injury and illness prevention has been a challenge. In a previous blog, we wrote about the importance of reducing readmission rates because of new, value-based US healthcare policies. Nothing is more frustrating for a provider than facing reimbursement penalties because a patient failed to change their lifestyle or follow therapy instructions, leading to them being readmitted. From the patient side, insurers and employers incentivize members with lower insurance rates if they can keep a clean bill of health. As technology has advanced and the expectations for care have evolved, more health apps are focused on changing unhealthy behaviors and preventing trips to the hospital in the first place.
Why Patient Accountability is a Problem
Most patients can probably think of a time when they neglected to follow a doctor’s order in some way, big or small. Perhaps they’ve been prescribed a new medicine, assigned physical therapy or been recommended a new diet. They may predict little benefit to come from the prescription, they may simply forget what they’ve been told, or they may find the recommendation too tough to stick to. Regardless of the reason, the lack of adherence is frustrating for healthcare providers aiming to help patients help themselves. Since daily or weekly in-person visits and phone calls aren’t scalable across an entire patient base and history has shown that providing documentation with a calendar full of marching orders is ineffective, providers are now turning to smartphones to track and communicate patient behavior.
How Health Apps are Making a Difference
In the past, diet and exercise were the sole focus when evaluating an individual’s health; however, it is now known that a more holistic approach is needed. With the goal of changing a patient’s heavily ingrained behavior, the focus is now not only on diet and exercise but also on other important contributors, like quality of sleep and soundness of mental health. Mobile health apps can now leverage existing technology like FitBits and food scales to make tracking physical & nutritional metrics easier. Sleep tracking apps, such as Apple’s Bedtime, help track users’ sleep; others put limits on screen time. As for mental health, its various impactors like stress, depression and anxiety are finally starting to garner their deserved spotlight. We’ve seen new health apps built specifically to offer meditation and breathing techniques in an effort to make it easier for the patient to drive their own therapy. These apps and devices not only automate data entry for the user but also provide more information for the app database.
Over the past ten years, artificial intelligence technology has greatly improved, making it more useful and ubiquitous. As much as every physician or personal trainer would love for each patient to follow their directions exactly as they’re handed out, it doesn’t always happen. Physicians can now rely on health apps that have machine learning, business logic, and predictive analysis to identify when patients are off course and need help getting back on track. In such a case, these smart health apps can make a recommendation to the user or simply alert a physician to contact that patient and gather more information. In some situations, the best course of action may be adjusting the user’s goals altogether. After all, it may make more sense to provide realistic goals for that patient and gradually ramp up the intensity.
What to expect moving forward
Instead of simply relaying static content, it will become standard for diet, exercise, and other types of health apps to incorporate multiple integrations with dynamic content that will make it easier for a user to stay accountable and track their progress. We believe this trend will continue to grow and users will come to expect this type of experience. We also think the next step will be granting access to providers, physicians, and insurers if the apps are not managed by them in the first place. This type of patient information would be wildly helpful and more reliable than information relayed by a patient at a later date, solely from memory. That being said, this type of sharing is also a security risk and HIPAA compliance will become ever more important.
Ultimately, people always choose the easiest path – it’s in our nature. Creating apps that are inexpensive and easy-to-use will be key when it comes to growing a user base. Charging a monthly subscription fee won’t be a deterrent if a health app can begin to play a critical role in the user’s daily life, similar to social media or music streaming apps like Spotify. This is particularly true if the patient believes their app-motivated behavior is keeping them out of a doctor’s office or preventing a costly hospital stay. With both patients and providers both now motivated to keep healthcare visits to a minimum under the fee-for-value system, more and more health apps will be focused on making it easier to track, manage, and share health information.