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mHealth in the Outpatient Setting: What to Know and What to Expect

August 28, 2019 BY Sara Essember

mHealth in the Outpatient Setting: What to Know and What to Expect

Did you know the first interactive video link to provide medical care was established in 1959? The video link bridged a gap of 112 miles between Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in Omaha to the Norfolk State Hospital. Nearly 60 years later, leaps and bounds have been made not only in medical care but in the delivery of care, along with patient expectations. One of the most promising areas is that of mHealth. This article will examine what mHealth is, why it matters, and what to expect in the outpatient setting.

What is mHealth (and Why Does it Matter)?

Mobile health, or more commonly referred to as mHealth, refers to the use of mobile devices to provide healthcare related services and solutions. mHealth fits comfortably under the telehealth umbrella and serves as one potential outlet for telehealth solutions.

According to Deloitte, mHealth spans applications, both wearable and non-wearable smart devices, aggregations platforms, and analytics. If the primary goal of mHealth is to empower patients via personal information and self-care management, all stakeholders could benefit from improved patient outcomes, reduced costs, and increased access to data on at-risk populations as a result.

Meeting Patients Where They Are

A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that, of the 86 percent of Americans who use a mobile device to access the internet, 92 percent access the internet daily and 32 percent report being online constantly.

According to a separate study, 80 percent of internet users have searched online for a health-related topic. The same study indicates that searching for health information is in the top three most popular activities online, lagging only behind checking email and researching product information prior to making a purchase.

The rise in ubiquity of smartphones coupled with the rapid expansion of telehealth in the United States presents a major empowerment opportunity for patients to access personal healthcare data and for providers to enhance the patient journey. Telehealth is also providing ways to cut costs and provide more convenient care. On the supplier end, the market continues to grow. Between 2016 and 2017, the mHealth market saw an increase of 45% in new entrants, moving from 58,000 to 84,000 mHealth app publishers. By 2023, The global mHealth app market is expected to reach up to $102.35 billion.

With patients looking to control access to their own data and the continued growth and development of technology, all signs point to the sustained interest and growth in mHealth applications.

mHealth vs. Telehealth

As telehealth expands, it can be easy to confuse the varying aspects which it encompasses. Telehealth encapsulates several areas, all focused on modern technology’s facilitation of healthcare. This can include specifics such as telemedicine, which focuses only on remote clinical applications, and separately, mHealth, referring to mobile health and self-care.

According to, Care Innovation, mHealth is defined as mobile health via direct-to-consumer technologies that allow consumers to access personal health data, without assistance or interpretation from a clinician.

mHealth in the Outpatient Setting

Various uses across the patient journey exist under the mHealth umbrella. From preventative care and wellness to diagnosis, treatment, and high-risk care management, there is likely an app or wearable to bring patients greater access to data, community, scheduling assistance and more. Outcomes range from improved patient experience, shorter wait times, remote consultation, and increased access for rural areas,

A potential pitfall to keep an eye on is data privacy. A recent study in the British Medical Journal, warns of a potential lack of privacy when it comes to mHealth apps. The study found that 79 percent of apps examined shared user data and that several of the apps and parent companies received and processed user data with developer and third-party services. Subsequently a number of third-party services advertised the ability to share with fourth-parties. While such findings certainly don’t negate the positives offered by mHealth, they serve as a warning to providers and patients regarding choice of app and potential consequences for user privacy.

mHealth Trends

mHealth increased from 2018 to 2019

According to a Definitive Healthcare study, adoption rates of telehealth solutions/services by physician practices remained relatively stable in 2019 from 2018 adoption numbers. That said, the diversification of modules is on the rise with reported increases in mHealth for concierge services. In fact, mHealth was one of the top new additions, lagging only behind two-way video/webcam and followed by clinical grade remote patient monitoring. This increase aligns with the growing trend of consumerization in healthcare and indicates a move toward increasing care access and convenience of care for consumers.

Adoption

(Fig 1. Current telehealth adoption rates against recent years for survey group. From Definitive Healthcare 2019 Outpatient Telehealth Study, 2019)
Mobile App Adoption(Fig 2. Current mobile applications for concierge services adoption rates against recent years for survey group. From Definitive Healthcare 2019 Outpatient Telehealth Study, 2019)

The role of consumerization and personal health trends mean that we may see patient expectations rise as the healthcare industry adopts a Business to Consumer model. With telehealth and mHealth being implemented in the hopes of providing better clinical care with high quality data at a lower cost, consumer demand and industry initiatives for these technologies are building momentum.

mHealth is on the rise

Along with an increase in patient portal technology, the study showed that mHealth concierge services surged from 24.3 percent in 2018 to 33.3 percent in 2019. This could be due to the emergence of consumerization of healthcare and the convenience these concierge services offer to both patients and clinicians.

When asked which telehealth technology had the highest potential to impact APMs for their practice if fully enabled, only two-way video ranked higher than mHealth as a specific solution.

Highest potential(Fig 3. Highest potential telehealth modules rates against recent years for survey group. From Definitive Healthcare 2019 Outpatient Telehealth Study, 2019)

Future Investment

The same study showed that, of the providers planning to implement a telehealth solution, nearly 90 percent planned on doing so in the next 18 months. More than 38 percent of respondents stated that they were planning to consider implementation of an mHealth solution.

2019-Telehealth-Plans-for-future

(Fig 4. Plans to invest in telehealth adoption for survey group. From Definitive Healthcare 2019 Outpatient Telehealth Study, 2019)
Time frame for adoption(Fig 5. Timeframe to invest in telehealth adoption for survey group. From Definitive Healthcare 2019 Outpatient Telehealth Study, 2019)

Physician practices are beginning to see their patient populations as consumers of healthcare. Telehealth services such as mHealth offer convenience for the physician and may promote a sense of empowerment and heightened self-care for patients. Data shows that telehealth, mHealth included, is more than a fad. Be on the look out for more refined and targeted solutions as the industry matures and vendors further iron out issues with HIPAA compliance, reimbursements, and credentialing that may have previously been barriers.

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