Mobile Health Apps

Pretty much everyone I know – and I’ll bet everyone you know – uses a mobile device of some kind. In fact, more than 130 million people in the United States own smartphones, and almost half have slept with a phone next to the bed (hopefully they don’t put it under their pillow!). It’s also estimated that half have used them to obtain health-related information, and that about 20 percent have installed a health-related app (so-called mHealth, a term used for the practice of medicine and public health with the help of mobile devices). In fact, I’ve read reports that five years from now, 100 million people will be using mHealth and various mobile fitness apps. And we’re not just talking about application for industrialized nations; the mHealth field has emerged in recent years largely as an application for developing countries, where mobile phone penetration is increasing rapidly. In developed and developing countries, mHealth is rapidly becoming a means of providing greater access to larger segments of the population, as well as improving the capacity of their health systems to provide quality care. Thus, mHealth is a big deal.

Protiviti’s recent white paper, “mHealth: How Mobile Apps Can Help Health Plans Improve Consumer Engagement and Facilitate Behavior Change,” recently took a close look at the mHealth space and identified multiple opportunities for health plans to use mobile app technology. Our research confirms that member engagement via mobile telephony can improve member satisfaction, loyalty and retention. It also can be a key strategic weapon against rising medical and administrative costs and reform uncertainty, and facilitate interaction with health exchanges and accountable care organizations.

I’d like to make a couple additional points about mHealth apps:

  • The federal government is already deeply invested in mHealth and patient engagement. The Department of Health and Human Services set up a Text4Health task force to provide mHealth recommendations directly to the secretary. It also established a SmokefreeTXT program for smoking cessation, and TXT4Tots, a text messaging library with evidence-based information on nutrition and exercise.
  • In the private sector, Aetna, Humana, Florida Blue and Kaiser Permanente are among several high-profile examples of health plans maximizing mHealth apps.
  • mHealth vendors are already servicing payers which need engaging mobile content for users – but too often use communications written by clinical staff using clinical terminology. Sensei Health stands out in this; it uses writers with diverse backgrounds – including comedians, in some cases – to compose several versions of a standard message, then tracks users’ response rates to each and sends future communications in the most popular style.

I note all this to give you an idea of the potential of mHealth apps for better member engagement. But organizations have to put some effort into it. To be successful, mHealth programs must get personalized information into members’ hands when their members want it – and not use mobile apps only to reduce administrative costs. They’ll need a comprehensive mHealth strategy in order to do this right. Companies don’t want to do it poorly and alienate the members they’re trying to engage.

Ask the senior management in your organization:

  • How can our plan maximize mHealth to optimize member engagement and facilitate behavior change?
  • How can we provide a secure environment for the exchange of sensitive personal information?
  • How can we integrate mHealth information into existing workflows?

The Protiviti white paper on mHealth apps provides details on key issues like patient privacy and data security. I encourage you to check it out.


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