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Chronic Care and mHealth: Reaching patients between clinical visits

MHealth tools promise efficiency in many areas of patient care, but the medical community seems to be closely watching their impact on the management of chronic illness. Diseases that require constant monitoring, such as diabetes and asthma, may be uniquely suited for mobile health solutions.

Management of chronic illness

Not only are chronic conditions a good match for mobile technology, they’re also prime targets for cost-saving efforts. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of U.S. adults were dealing with one or more chronic conditions as of 2012, and in 2010 they accounted for 86 percent of all healthcare spending.

While acute conditions (such as an earache) must be treated in a clinical setting, successful management of chronic conditions requires good home care. According to a HIMSS report on mHealth, mobile monitoring and communication tools can keep at-home care on track by providing a bridge between office visits.

“Mobile health tools create a low-cost stream of highly actionable clinical data, using readily available cloud-connected sensors, ranging from glucose meters to heart monitors to asthma tools,” the report explains.

“Nearly half of U.S. adults were dealing with one or more chronic conditions as of 2012.”

Coupled with secure messaging platforms, mobile health tools allow practitioners not only to gather vital health data but also to communicate with patients and intervene at key points. For example, a nurse can notify a patient that his glucose is low or send a timely note to encourage a patient to adhere to his medication regimen.

“Disease-specific nurse navigators are ideal for managing patients with chronic conditions in the ambulatory setting,” notes Jose Barreau, MD, CEO of mobile health platform provider Doc Halo. “Engaging patients with chronic conditions on a regular basis helps them manage their disease, which needs constant attention. Frequent light touches by a nurse navigator keeps patients with chronic conditions out of the hospital.”

Research about chronic illness and mobile health

Although smartphones are a relatively new addition to the chronic care toolbox, research is already exploring the value of innovations such as secure messaging apps and monitoring devices.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research examined the role mHealth can play in cancer supportive care. While the report ultimately recommended further study, mHealth’s potential for linking patients and providers was clearly acknowledged.

Another study conducted by University of Washington researchers and published in JMIR in 2015 reviewed other studies in the medical literature to evaluate the effectiveness of mobile health in supporting patient adherence to chronic disease management. Although results were mixed, the study identified the “potential for mHealth tools to better facilitate adherence to chronic disease management.” Examining areas such as usability, feasibility and patients’ preferences for various tools, researchers noted significant improvement in adherence to treatment in 56 percent of the studies reviewed.

While both studies found that there’s more work to be done in determining the efficacy of mobile health for chronic care, researchers agreed that the new tools have the potential to make a significant impact. For now, it’s safe to say that the lines of communication are definitely open.