MHealth, Technology, and the Invisible Patients

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“Patients are the most underused and potent resource in health care” Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the United States


“Patients are the most underused and potent resource in health care” Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the United States

It’s half way through the first day of the 2012 mHealth Summit near Washington DC – a gigantic gathering of techies, telecom, and health care professionals.  There’s lots of talk talk talk about how mHealth is going to improve care, improve the patients experience and improve outcomes.  And, I believe it can.

But, I just came from a panel where the panelists (three doctors and a mathematician – in all fairness the mathematician is a VP at the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) pontificated on mHealth.  One of the docs, Samir Damiani, talked about how he has an IT person on staff at his practice at MDRevolution to help his patients get oriented to the mHealth devices he has prescribed for them.  (“Hi, Miss Smith, this is your Fitbit.  Here is how you use it and here is how you can track your data”)  Pretty cool, I think.  We know from the problem patients have understanding how to use prescription drugs, that there is a need to have someone to help demystify the prescription – whether it is for a drug or an app.

Everyone  on the panel had an opinion on how to get patients to use and, hopefully, benefit from the devices (“I don’t need incentives to use my ATM, so why do I need incentives to use health tech.”)  But something critical was missing from the panel, and indeed from the whole Summit so far. And that is the patient.  You know, the person we are supposedly doing all this stuff for.  Regina Holliday (@Regina Holliday) and Dave deBronkhart (@epatientdave) where are you????

We know that there are a jillion health, wellness and fitness apps out there, but we also know that 80-90% of them are not being used.  What we don’t really know is why.  Until we figure that out, we may be tempted to go down the same rabbit hole that healthcare has been jumping into for many years.  Design a drug, prescribe a drug, and then blame the patient when it isn’t taken properly – the only difference is now we can design an app, prescribe an app and have it sit idle on the phone.  In both instances we have lost opportunity and lost dollars.

Let’s not repeat this failed strategies of the past in the new field of  mHealth.  Please, guys, let’s get the patients involved – not as a token “consumer” on one panel on the last day of a mHealth care conference, but rather as full partners in the development of these technology solutions.

I didn’t start out writing this post to promote my new crowdfunding and beta testing platform, but I think I will do it anyway.  Health Tech Hatch offers developers the chance to get early, iterative feedback on concepts and prototypes.  Our mission is to support health care entrepreneurs get their innovations into the hands of clinicians and patients.  But we recently noted that we need to change our mission statement to emphasize that it isn’t just getting the innovations into the hands of docs and patients, it is getting innovations that are actually used and actually work into the hands of the folks they actually will help.

I am still  hoping that there will be some patients speaking at this event, but, if not, please mHealth Summit planners, give the Society for Participatory Medicine a call and see if they can help to integrate patient “meaningful use” into next year’s conference.


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