Health-tracking Apps: an Opportunity for Patient Engagement

We may be one step closer to answering the age-old question of how to enhance patient involvement and compliance with medical care.

The large-scale adoption of mobile technologies in the form of smartphones and tablet computers has sparked the development of mobile applications (commonly known as ’apps’) designed to enhance patient connectivity with health information and promote active health management around specific, highly prevalent diseases and conditions.

A recent New York Times article cited emerging technologies such as a wi-fi-enabled blood-pressure cuff that a patient can use to take blood pressure and pulse readings, as well as connect to an iPhone, which synchronizes the data with records that are tracked online.

The data can be securely stored and updated as part of an online personal health record, many of which allow patients to share their information through a secure connection with their physicians.

Similarly, there are multiple applications currently in development for diabetic support, including a device that can measure blood glucose levels and, based on the reading, provide the user with advice on what to eat. Additionally, the app tracks blood glucose levels over time and can provide valuable feedback to the physician by monitoring changes in the patient’s condition.

Mobile technology is taking public-health initiatives to the next level by encouraging individuals to become more actively engaged in managing their health. The American Diabetes Assoc., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Service Administration, and innovative companies that develop mobile technology are teaming up to implement a highly visible public campaign that will focus on a new diabetes-management initiative.

The goal is to use text-messaging-based health-risk assessments to focus on those individuals who may benefit from additional resources and health guidance.

While these applications may be classified as emerging, physician practices may begin seeing early-adopter patients who come to the office with more knowledge about their conditions than they have in the past.

Physicians will have to consider how this data should be used in the clinical care of patients, the level of information they want patients to share, and how to converse with patients around this type of information. It’s clear that, regardless of the approach, the age of information technology will continue to provide endless opportunities for patient engagement well into the future.

Kerry Ann Hayon writes for Vital Signs, a publication of the Mass. Medical Society, where this article first appeared.