As a larger percentage of the population grows older and healthcare budgets shrink, the healthcare industry must look for innovative ways to reduce costs without decreasing the quality of care provided. Luckily, mobile healthcare (mHealth) provides a means for connecting patients and healthcare providers directly and efficiently. mHealth is not limited to disease treatment, but also includes strategies for health maintenance in both well and at-risk patients, reducing healthcare costs by decreasing the need for doctor and hospital visits. Therefore, a good mobile strategy is necessary for any healthcare business that is looking for a way to save money while connecting personally with its consumer base.
Many healthcare businesses have been hesitant to initiate mHealth strategies because public adoption of smartphones was initially too low. However, the percentage of people using smartphones is increasing rapidly. In fact, mobileStorm is predicting 47% of the U.S. will have a smartphone by the end of 2011 and 86% by 2015. Currently, the mobile phone is already a major part of most consumers’ daily routines, so expanding smartphone capabilities is preferable to requiring users to purchase an additional medical device. This saves money and reduces the learning curve, creating a system that patients are more likely to use. By capitalizing on this user preference, your business can find ways to access consumers directly through their smartphones and drive patient behavior like never before possible.
Over 95% of SMS messages are read by their recipients within four minutes of being sent, creating a reception speed that is significantly faster than typical messaging via email, home phone call, or direct mail. This means that time sensitive data is more likely to be accessed promptly via a mobile device.
This capability is important because it provides patients with faster access to general information that does not qualify as protected health information (PHI). This includes message types such as appointment reminders or rescheduling that are designed to reduce the number of missed appointments. Another use is sendinggeneral medication and activity reminders that decrease adherence issues and reduce the need for follow up appointments. Also, SMS can be used for two-way communication between a healthcare provider and patient, allowing patients to respond to or text healthcare providers.
The power of SMS is not unlimited, however. Governmental regulation limits the transmission of PHI via unsecured channels so any messaging that would reveal a patient’s treatment or condition is forbidden. Despite these restrictions, SMS is still able to provide consumers with notifications for, and access to, PHI via a link to a secure website or a link that allows users to “click to call” a healthcare professional, call center, or secure voice message to obtain important information sent via SMS.
Mobile Healthcare Applications
The variety of mobile applications that are on the market today has allowed for the creation of apps that can be personalized to fit narrow niches. This means that the information that an app provides is relevant to individual consumers because it is specified to their interests. Therefore, mobile applications are an ideal medium for mHealth because they are a source for user-specific, two-way communication.
Secure App Messaging
However, due to HIPAA compliance standards, PHI cannot be transmitted directly through a mobile application. In order to transmit PHI, a secure app messaging channel must be integrated with the application’s functions. Thus, instead of transmitting PHI directly through the application, it is stored in a secure inbox that can only be logged into by the patient to whom it pertains. Upon logging into the secure inbox, the patient will be able to access full HTML messaging that can contain both images and video.
In order to ensure that information is received in a timely manner, a push notification is prompted by the application and appears on patients’ mobile home screens, prompting them to check their inbox. When the patients select “view” on the push notification, they are taken directly to the log-in screen to access their information securely.
Therefore, the combination of secure app messaging and push notifications creates a HIPAA-compliant solution for transmitting PHI that maintains a rate of viewing that is on par with that of SMS. However, unlike SMS, this HIPAA-compliant technology is able to address information that contains a greater level of personalization than SMS, including reminders about medication, exercise, and physical therapy appointments, which necessitate secure communication due to PHI standards. This communication method is also useful for distributing instructional videos; recording, logging, and communicating medical conditions with a healthcare professional; or even for managing medical accounting, billing, and reconciliation information that allow patients to get info, ask questions, or pay bills.
All of these functions can help to reduce the need for calls to a call center or healthcare professional. Additionally, both SMS and mHealth app communication can be used to affect patient behaviors and long term habits to create a population that focuses more on preventative care. A focus on preventative care can significantly decrease the amount of time and resources that your business pours into reactive care, and thus can save money while providing quality that is equal to, or better than, it was previously.
For more information on how to grow your healthcare business, download these free whitepapers:
Making Healthcare Mobile – Download Now
2011 mHealth Report – Download Now
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