Patient mHealth Adoption High, But Prolonged Patient Use Limited

By Sara Heath

– Patients are interested in digital and mHealth technology adoption, but lose interest when a tool does not offer strong engagement, according to a recent Rock Health survey.

The survey of about 4,000 patients noted an increase in digital health adoption between 2015 and 2017, with adoption levels increasing from 80 percent in 2015 to 87 percent in 2017.

Online websites hosting health information are the most popular form of digital health, with 79 percent of patients saying they access these resources. That number is up from 2015, where only 71 percent of patients accessed health information websites.

Health information websites represent the smallest growth in patient adoption, however.

Instead, technologies such as wearables and remote patient monitoring tools saw spikes in patient use, even though adoption is not yet widespread.

In 2015, 13 percent of patients had a wearable. By 2017, that number grew to 24 percent. For remote patient monitoring tools, patient adoption increased from 17 percent in 2015 to 24 percent in 2017.

Patients also expressed interest in online provider reviews. In 2015, half of patients consulted online provider reviews to learn more about their doctors. That number grew to 58 percent in 2017, a spike that likely stems from an increase in search for pharmacy and hospital data, the survey indicated.

What’s more, digital tools enhance the patient experience, the survey found.

Even though most patients would rather have an in-person office visit, those who did receive care via telehealth still reported high satisfaction. Patient satisfaction with telehealth increased when a telehealth visit was preceded by an in-person visit with the same provider.

Wearable tools are also proving beneficial to patient satisfaction, the survey revealed. Fifty-four percent of patients said wearables motivated them to be physically active, 40 percent credited the tools with weight loss, 24 percent said wearables helped them sleep better, and 18 percent said they were instrumental in better stress management, per the 2017 statistics.

However, the research indicates that these tools are not useful in the long-term. Although patients reported that wearables helped them achieve their health-related goals, over one-quarter of patients who adopted a wearable stopped using it.

Twenty-nine percent of patients said they stopped using their wearable because they achieved their goal and no longer needed the digital coaching. Twenty percent said the tool was ineffective in achieving their health goals.

These findings suggest that wearable developers must design the tools to be more engaging for patients and useful for individuals on a health and wellness journey.

“Achieving a goal represents success from the consumer’s vantage point, but not necessarily from a business standpoint,” the report authors said. “Companies must figure out how to deliver long-term value to ensure sustainable customer engagement, even if users hit health goals along the way.”

Digital health tools are also failing to reach the best audience, the survey suggested. Patients managing a chronic illness stand to benefit most from patient engagement and self-management technology, experts agree.

However, this population is largely neglecting digital health management tools. While chronic care patients did report extensive self-management strategies, few of them mentioned using health IT to support that management.

For example, patients taking medication or with high blood pressure are more likely to track health goals than patients who are generally healthy. However, that sicker patient cohort does not usually use digital health to do so. Fifty-four percent of patients taking a medication keep track of their drugs; only 11 percent use a digital app to do this.

Separate research has also found that mHealth tools don’t always resonate with patients. A 2016 data brief from the Commonwealth Fund found that patients are unlikely to use health IT and mHealth if the tools are not usable or do not yield tangible results.

Interface design flaws, limited patient education opportunities, and data entry and retrieval problems deterred patients from prolonged mHealth use, the researchers explained.

Patient involvement in mHealth app development may be helpful for designing tools that will be usable for all patients. Additionally, patient input could help developers understand what app functions will compel long-term patient use.

“To harness the potential of mobile apps, developers may need to engage a diverse set of patients in the design and testing of their products,” the researchers wrote.

“In addition, the apps should be able to remind users of the rationale for each task and should integrate data from other sources, such as pharmacies, to reduce the need for manual data entry.”

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