Healthcare News & Insights

mHealth offers population health benefits — and pitfalls

Advances in mobile health technology are giving providers new tools to track patients’ symptoms and improve care — but experts warn mHealth comes with its own kind of pitfalls. 

ThinkstockPhotos-135489882In the midst of health care’s current IT boom, hospital leaders are under pressure to implement health IT to reduce care costs and get patients involved in their care.

Some are approaching this task through the use of apps and mobile devices that allow them to communicate with patients, and track vitals signs and symptoms that may preclude more serious conditions.

Tool to track depression

Now, a new mHealth tool is tracking patients’ mood, particularly looking for signs a person may be experiencing depression, reports Health IT News.

On average, depression affects more than 16 million U.S. adults and costs the economy nearly $210.5 billion each year.

The mobile app, called Purple Robot, was developed by researchers at Northwestern University’s department of preventive medicine. Unlike other mHealth apps designed to track depression, Purple Robot doesn’t require user input to do its job.

The app monitors users’ phone usage, geographic locations and travel patterns. Other research has suggested that increased phone usage and infrequent or sporadic travel are two factors which correlate with depression symptoms.

As David Mohr, director of Northwestern’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies and senior author of the study, explains, “The data showing depressed people tended not to go many places reflects the loss of motivation seen in depression … People are likely, when on their phones, to avoid thinking about things that are troubling, painful feelings or difficult relationships. It’s an avoidance behavior we see in depression.”

The researchers and developers conducted a study about the app’s ability to detect depression compared to traditional methods. Researchers asked 40 adults to download the app and fill out a daily self-reported depression survey about their mood.

The study found that the app predicted depression more accurately than the survey with an 87% accuracy rate.

Warning from mHealth experts

Advances like Purple Robot give providers a valuable tool to manage population health and prevent costly conditions before requiring more serious medical interventions.

However, experts have also cautioned that mHealth implementation could come with risks and consequences.

In an interview for mHealth News, Dr. Karen Rheuban, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia Health System and a leader for several telehealth organizations, and David Cattell-Gordon, director of the University of Virginia Office of Telemedicine, offer their take on mHealth’s biggest benefits and pitfalls.

Specifically, the biggest fear they have about mHealth is security. Consumers are driving the demand for more tools to manage and engage in their care. However, this also means that large amounts of protected health information are moving between locations (from devices to cloud data storage to providers’ electronic health records) and with varying levels of security controls and encryption.

The other fear is direct-to-consumer mHealth and telehealth technologies may fragment care if they aren’t provided in an effective integrated care model.

Dr. Reuban and Cattell-Gordon believe the most successful providers in the new healthcare environment will be those who can account for theses potential risks and are able to effectively integrate multiple modalities for patients to engage in their care.

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