This article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Health technology advances are beginning to reduce hospital readmissions. The smartphone itself is becoming a way of keeping tabs on recently discharged patients. Smartphone apps are engaging patients. Sensors are providing the kind of mobile monitoring that only recently graduated from the ICU to the general hospital bed, and now is able to be used wherever patients resume their normal lives.
Other mobile technology helps patients arrange for rides or reminds them to take their medications, weigh themselves, or perform other necessary daily activities to stay out of the hospital.
"We have one practice that we follow closely" that is applying consumer-ready technologies, such as cell phones, the Internet, and digital cameras, to enhance the patient-physician relationship, says Joseph Kvedar, MD, founder and director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare, a Boston-based integrated healthcare system with nearly 60,000 employees and a research budget of $1.4 billion. He is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
"I call this practice our canary in a coal mine practice, because [the patients] are in a relatively poor town adjacent to Boston, and many of them speak English as a second language, and we survey them for a number of things routinely," he says. "A couple of months ago, we found that 65% of them were carrying smartphones."
Within a year, Partners expects to be routinely asking any patient entering a chronic illness management program if they own a smartphone, know how to download an app, and are able to work with those apps, Kvedar says.
If patients can use their own devices to run these apps or mobile health sensors marketed to consumers, costs could be split between consumers and healthcare systems, and consumers would be partly responsible for the device maintenance, Kvedar says.
"We're looking forward to the time when we can do it that way. This will allow us to spread our resources among many more patients who are in need of this service if the patient can own not just the hub, which is the phone, but the data charges and all of the technology costs that we now pay," he says.