How Mobile Patient Platforms Can Improve Care for an Aging Population

Population Health,Mobile,mhealth

In a recent Time article, David Johnson analyzed the growing population of baby boomers (individuals born from 1946 to 1964) and highlighted that many live longer but are unhealthy. Johnson points out that monitoring and screening baby boomers for chronic disease is essential, and without such screenings, he sees a “trend toward prolonged treatment of chronic conditions [that] signals how health-care workers and policymakers must prepare, in the coming years, for the largest-ever cohort to enroll in Medicare over the next ten years.” Johnson - and many other health care professionals - is pointing out the challenge that lies ahead as one of the largest populations in the United States ages, placing pressure on a health care system that is expected to accomplish more for their patients with less. So how can hospitals and health systems prepare for the demands of an aging population? By leveraging mobile patient platforms and mHealth, hospitals and health systems can begin to streamline processes, save money, and improve the patient experience for their aging population.

Baby Boomers and Text Messaging

In 2012, Americans sent 6 billion text messages every day. You can only imagine how much this number must have advanced in four years.  Most of us are rarely without our phones, using them to browse our favorite social networks, read the news, and communicate with family and friends. Innovative movers in the health care sphere have learned to harness this power to make it easier to communicate with their patients. While it’s an easy assumption to make that texting is just for younger individuals, the age group where texting is growing fastest is in those between the ages of 50 to 64. Furthermore, 94 percent of those over the age of 70 use text messaging at least once a week. The growth in text messaging among an older population can be beneficial for patients and health care organizations alike. For instance, preventative health care screenings are one of the most powerful tools for keeping our patients healthy as they age. Annual screenings for colorectal cancer are recommended to start at age 50 and every 10 years. Patients over the age of 45 are at higher risk for coronary artery disease, and they are encouraged to have tests for lipid disorders at least every five years. Women over the age of 60 have an increased risk of osteoporosis and should be examined regularly to determine if they are at a higher risk for bone fractures. 

Despite these increased risks, a small percentage of older adults schedule their screenings that can help detect problems early and prevent chronic illness, and only one-quarter of those who are due for an exam seek one out. Every time a patient fails to schedule a screening, there is a missed opportunity to prevent disease and forego costly procedures. Scheduling the appointment is half the battle. Missed appointments cost the U.S. health care system more than $150 billion a year, according to Healthcare Finance. Using text message reminders to ping patients about their appointment can dramatically reduce the rate of no-show appointments, as well as give provider staff an opportunity to fill the open slot.

Improving Patient Adherence

Text message reminders can help patients pursue better behaviors in their day to day lives - older patients, for example, can benefit from a reminder that they need to stay active and take their medication appropriately. In one study of 700 individuals who had coronary heart disease, half were sent four text messages per week. These texts included semi-personalized messages based on their preferences and health histories. The texts included dietary recommendations, reminders to exercise regularly, and other actions that help people who have heart disease. Among those who received the text messages, a number of factors that affect heart disease risk improved. This is a major step toward helping an aging population reduce the risk of chronic disease.

When patients receive daily reminders to take their pills, medical compliance increases dramatically. For instance, an article published earlier this month at JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded that “text messaging significantly improved patient adherence” in chronically ill patients. As PBS pointed out in their article on the study, “patients went from having a 50 percent rate of following through on medication to a nearly 68 percent rate.” In an era where hospitals are forced to accomplish more with less, a 36 percent increase in patient adherence is a major triumph in saving costs for a hospital, as well as improving the experience of patients.

Patient Education

Text messaging can also make it easier for your patients to get access to more in-depth information. Hospitals and health systems can have texts sent automatically with links to longer health articles that patients can read at their leisure instead of squeezing all of their health education into short in-person appointments. This saves resources and time.

Well-informed patients are less likely to be admitted to the hospital; in one study, participants in patient education programs significantly reduced their rate of hospital admissions and spent less time in the hospital when they were admitted. This results in better quality of life for patients and lower costs for medical organizations.

Can You Get More Senior Patients to Use Text Messages?

Even though we have shown that baby boomers are increasingly using text messages, it’s still possible that some patients will rally against the use of text messaging in their treatment. No matter what age group, health care providers will run into patients who say they don't have the ability or interest to learn new technology. But hospitals and health systems can expose and educate patients about the benefits of text messaging in health care settings. It’s important for health care providers to inform patients about how text message reminders can make it easier for them to remember important tasks such as taking their pills each day. Consistent compliance can help an aging population feel better and avoid the issues associated with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart conditions.

Modern communication technology gives us more tools than ever to provide the most thorough and effective care to our patients. By utilizing all that we have available, we can efficiently and effectively help them lead better and healthier lives.