Guest Column | December 23, 2015

Mobile Health Poised For Physician Adoption

HITO Steven Willey, YouPlus Health

By Steven Willey, MD and Chief Scientist, YouPlus Health

The tech world continues to expand the potential for how modern mobile technologies can benefit users, but the medical community has yet to fully take advantage of these innovative solutions. This is going to change in the coming year. Mobile health technology has the potential to transform the health of our nation, however it is critical that healthcare professionals jump on board to ensure that consumers are using the most highly credible and scientifically proven health applications in the market.

Up to this point, consumers have adopted mHealth technology more quickly than the medical community. According to a JMIR study, just over 50 percent of mobile phone users have downloaded a health-related app.

From texting with friends in another hemisphere to finding the menu online for a new taco truck down the street, the convenience and connectivity mobile technology makes available to everyone is becoming more mainstream. Consumers are on the cutting edge of mobile technology, leading to the adoption of mHealth before the medical community has had time to catch up.

At first it may seem odd that consumers are more involved in health-related technology than medical professionals, as we often assume doctors will be experts in everything that affects our wellbeing. However, there is a very important reason medical professionals have kept their distance from this form of technology — they are reluctant to trust it.

Medical professionals do not trust mobile health applications because the majority have limited functionality and few are scientifically proven through peer-reviewed published research. According to an IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics report, “Over 50 percent of mHealth apps continue to have limited functionality, most simply providing information.” Many mHealth apps lack proper guidance to help people through the journey to their best overall health. Additionally, the mHealth industry, due in part to the minimal involvement of the medical community, lacks the oversight needed to show the efficacy of the products. The IMS report also says that clinical trials involving mHealth apps totaled a paltry 135 in 2013 and 300 in 2015.

Although this number is small compared to the total number of health applications available today, it is this group of 300 applications that medical professionals need to focus on. There is evidence that physicians and other healthcare professionals are growing increasingly attracted to the advantages offered by mHealth.

A Research Now report found a variety of promising numbers on the attitudes of healthcare professionals on mHealth. According to the report, 86 percent of healthcare professionals believe that mobile apps will boost their knowledge of patient conditions and 46 percent of healthcare professionals believe that mobile apps will improve their relationships with patients.

A major issue driving the adoption of mHealth is the shift to value-based payment. This shift creates a strong incentive to keep patients healthier and reduce costs by avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations. Health problems are mitigated, minimized and cheaper to resolve when caught early. Mobile health platforms can facilitate the process of preventative medicine through diagnosis, patient engagement, monitoring, in-the-moment guidance and more.

For example, a doctor-designed app capable of providing individualized guidance to improve diet and exercise routines would allow a physician to prescribe a credible, engaging and convenient method for a patient to go about making the numerous healthy decisions required each day. A doctor can’t be present at the gym or the dinner table, but an app can.

It is critical that medical professionals begin finding and using mHealth in their practices. Not only because of their general use, but because they are more successful with doctor involvement. The IMS report found “the typical 30-day retention rates for mHealth apps prescribed by a provider are 10 percent higher than average and 30 percent higher for fitness apps.”

It is clear that a doctor’s recommendation to a health application has a profound effect on its success rate; however, it is also critical that doctors choose platforms that work effectively. Here are the most important aspects to consider when choosing a mobile health platform to recommend to patients:

  1. Medically Proven: Any mHealth app must be medically proven, evidence based and peer-reviewed in order to fully trust it. There are not many out there, so carefully find one, which has completed a scientific study to prove its success rate.
  2. Educational: It must educate the patient instead of having them simply look at data and numbers. Health literacy is a problem in our country and we must find tools to help patients become more aware of ways to improve their health.
  3. Proper Coaching and Guidance: Doctors do not have time to spend 24 hours a day with their patients. Make sure the application is one that personalizes a program to the patient and then gradually takes them through each step.

2016 will be the year medical professionals find themselves at the cutting edge of mHealth. They will not only be able to help their patients understand the information and data provided through mobile health technology, but they will be able to offer recommendations for trusted, highly-proven platforms to help their patients get the most out of mobile health.

About The Author
Steven Willey, MD and Chief Scientist of YouPlus Health, is a St. Louis-based doctor best known for his innovative work on optimizing the human body’s metabolic performance. Dr. Willey attended Northwestern University Medical School and completed his residency at Stanford University. From there he opened his own medical practice at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis. Dr. Willey is the author of Reprogram Your Life: Bioscience for a Healthier You, which describes his integrated method for achieving and maintaining overall health through coordinated improvements in fitness, nutrition and sleep. In 2013, he founded YouPlus Health, a science-driven mobile health-coaching platform. He has worked with a team of physicians, psychologists, and computer scientists to design this platform that is scientifically proven through peer-reviewed published research to help people lose weight, reduce their waist circumference, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and increase their HDL and VO2 max. By creating this platform, Dr. Willey hopes to have the ability to reach more people with his groundbreaking research.