We still have a long way to go to integrate ehealth in healthcare

ehealth_wordlePOST SUMMARY: eHealth (also written e-health) is a relatively recent term for healthcare practice supported by electronic processes and communication, dating back to at least 1999.  So why hasn’t ehealth really taken off when it comes to our current healthcare landscape?

The belief that an app is going to to replace a doctor and empower patients may be in the future, but for right now the ehealth landscape is too fragmented and is being inflated by a tech bubble in which no investor wants to be left behind. Why? Because no matter what apps and tools are developed it still requires patients to take time out of their busy day to monitor/input data.  Is this any different that patients watching what they eat when they have high cholesterol instead of taking a statin?

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First, let’s clarify some key points; patients who are managing chronic health problems, like diabetes, are highly motivated to monitor their health.  However, the rest of us are not going to check our BP everyday or test our cholesterol at home.  In addition, current standards for health target numbers are in flux with new guidelines and data being presented every day.  What was considered high blood pressure yesterday is now accepted as the norm, for example.

Then there is the issue of “interrupting the data”.  It has been my personal experience that both PCP’s and specialists were unimpressed when I shared data with them that I had collected via apps on my smartphone.  As a cardiologist said to me “the margin of era on those apps is too great to make treatment recommendations”.

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So what do patients really want in eHealth?

1ne: Be able to communicate with their doctors via email when they have questions about medications.

2wo: The ability to request/change/cancel appointments online.

3hree: Read test results online with an explanation of what the results show.

Those were the top findings from the research I flew around the country to complete for a client and most said those top three needs were not being met.

What is really alarming is that more and more eHealth initiatives are trying to make medical experts out of patients who need to form closer relationships with their doctors.

A recent survey asked healthcare professionals whether they currently use smartphone technology in their medical practice; whether they thought it was beneficial and for which types of patients; and under what conditions they thought it had the greatest potential.

  • 46% of healthcare professionals say that they will introduce mobile apps to their practice in the next five years.
  • 86% of healthcare professionals believe that health apps will increase their knowledge of patients’ conditions.
  • 96% of users think that health apps help to improve their quality of life.
  • 72% of healthcare professionals believe that health apps will encourage patients to take more responsibility for their health.

Most people use the apps as a lifestyle choice, but their use to support healthcare is growing

  • Most people use health apps to help them lose weight and to track their exercise (60% to monitor activity/workouts, 53% to motivate them to exercise, 49% to record calorie intake, and 42% to monitor weight loss).
  • However, 30% use the apps to monitor existing health conditions and 29%, to remind them to take medication.
    96% of health app users think that health apps help to improve their quality of life, while only 37% of health professionals believe that they will improve their patients’ lives.

What does all this mean?  eHealth is here to stay, but the effect that ehealth will have on treating patients is still to be determined.  Will patients proactively manage their health on smartphones or on home PC’s?  I’m not sure because frankly, consumers are time stressed.  With all the money being spent on new eHealth initiatives I’m sure one day someone is going to hit the jackpot in what patients need and want but there will be a lot of stumbling before then. Above all patients have to want to take charge of their health electronically.  New demographic segments may already be there, but in the end, it’s going to come down to the “patient doctor relationship”.

 

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