A view from the Center

Deloitte's Life Sciences & Health Care Blog

How will mHealth succeed?

Looking to get away? With a smartphone, I can book a vacation flight, check in, pay baggage fees, pick out a seat, book a hotel, catch a ride to the hotel, read restaurant reviews, make a reservation, and split a bill all from the palm of my hand.

But when I cut my leg while swimming and was far away from my doctor, it wasn’t easy to search for a nearby provider, book a doctor’s appointment, view or share data from my electronic health record (EHR), or have the cut checked out quickly and conveniently without a trip to a clinic, doctor’s office, or ER.

Despite the saturation of tech tools in other industries, low demand for services has kept many providers from embracing and utilizing new technologies. In general, mobile and connected care technology and platforms work well for those who use them, but not enough people are using them.

As consumers we have to get excited enough to be forceful enough to demand connected and mobile health (mHealth) options.

mHealth (or digital health: we have many names in use in our industry) is the utilization of mobile technologies to provide health-related solutions across the patient journey. Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers, a nationally represented survey of 3,616 adults, finds that few consumers capitalize on mHealth capabilities. Only 13 percent of survey respondents said they used video, computer programs, or mobile apps to learn about treatment options, though 17 percent of respondents said they are very interested in doing so in the future. The use of mHealth tools is slightly higher among those with chronic conditions, while 23 percent reported using apps to refill prescriptions.

Now compare that with health care providers. Deloitte data shows that providers surveyed are interested in mHealth even if many haven’t yet fully adopted available tools. Nine out of 10 physician respondents expressed interest in mHealth technology and believe it has clinical value. Responding physicians who were disinterested and did not report seeing clinical value in mHealth were older and operating solo or independent practices. Twenty-four percent of physician respondents report using some form of mHealth and of these, 49 percent use mHealth daily.

Mobile health strategies can improve patient engagement and contribute to better clinical outcomes. Health care providers are slowly embracing mHealth, largely because the industry is moving to emphasize value-based care, which could generate the greatest return on mHealth investments. But until consumers and other payers (like plans) realize they can demand cheaper, easier care when appropriate, providers will likely stick with the familiar status quo that aligns with how they are getting paid.

However, at the recent HIMSS16 conference, I noticed that more providers are embracing holistic health care – acknowledging the social, cultural, environmental, and geographic factors that can affect health and should be incorporated into a care plan. This will require a shift from episodic care to bundled payments and value-based care as well as breaking down data silos with the patient at the center of care and health. This type of evolution will likely push health systems to adopt new technology and make mHealth mainstream.

That being said, it’s likely that industry disrupters rather than current players could put forward the most innovative mHealth concepts. It is possible that banking, retail, hospitality, telecommunications, and tech companies could do more to make quick, easy check-ins with a doctor than the current health care industry giants.

I have the tools to make sure I get a good airfare, nice hotel, great food, and easy transportation all in my hand. As the race to mainstream mHealth continues, only time will tell who or what will be successful in making mHealth work for all parties – the provider, the patients, the payer – but it’s clear that industry players should act now to try to beat the disruptors to developing mHealth applications that will transform health care.

Author bio

Timothy Smith, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, is the national leader for the Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) practice. Tim has been with the firm for over 18 years and has led some of Deloitte’s key health care system implementations, with an emphasis on large scale systems integration and operational redesign projects, and leveraging such packages as Epic Systems, Cerner, Siemens Soarian, and others.