Mobile health applications (mhealth apps) and smartphones that help track health indicators like blood pressure, weight or diet hold promise in that regard. There is no shortage of mhealth apps in the iPhone/Android stores and that number is growing at an exponential rate. But the adoption rate of mhealth apps is not increasing. In fact it has been stagnant for the last two years. Pew Research data shows that in the case of people over 65 years old, the smart phone adoption is barely 23% and the adoption of mhealth apps to track health data is barely 1%.
What would help increase the adoption rate of mhealth apps among boomers and elder people?
I think that physician embracement of mhealth apps is crucial for the adoption and continued use of mhealth apps by patients. Surely the usability of smartphones needs to be improved for seniors, with easy to read font sizes and apps that are less cluttered, but the more important piece of the puzzle is closing the feedback loop between the doctor and the patient. For an elder person or any patient for that matter, the importance of the mobile app/device is in its usefulness, not the novelty. The data recorded by the mobile app needs to be actionable. By that I mean the doctor should be able to evaluate the data and provide feedback to the patient advising him/her on the next steps.
Studies have shown that most patients, especially baby boomers would download a health app if recommended by their doctor. However the continued usage of the health app would depend on the ease of use of the app and communication with their doctor. Continued encouragement of the use of the mhealth app by the doctor, is critical in increasing patient engagement with the mhealth app. The alignment of payer-provider incentives will help in motivating physicians to adopt mobile health tools. The change from the fee for service model to an outcome based payment model will encourage the use of mhealth technologies to monitor patients with chronic disease and prevent emergency room visits.
For a doctor to use, recommend and rely on a mobile health app data to make decisions, the app data should fit in to the workflow, be credible, actionable and add value to the decision making process. Maybe it would be better if the mobile app was customizable in such a way that the doctor could decide which data he/she wanted to see and with what frequency. Patients, especially the elder population, feel greatly comforted knowing that their doctor cares for them and is looking out for them. Regular doctor-patient communication increases patient engagement, making them motivated to take control over their health and adhere to the health regimen that their doctor has prescribed for them.