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Pick Up Your Smartphone: The Doctor's Calling

14 March 2012
By Neil Versel
Hospitals and doctors' offices are now reaching out with patient education materials via smartphones and iPads. Emmi Solutions is among the vendors leading the charge.

Forty–six percent of American adults now own a smartphone, and 41% say they'd like to have more of their healthcare delivered via mobile devices. So it's no surprise that Emmi Solutions, a leading purveyor of online patient education content, has launched a mobile platform to reach people on their smartphones and iPads.

Emmi, which provides interactive audiovisual and text programs, decided it had to go mobile because otherwise, "you're missing a large part of the population,” Emmi CEO Devin Gross told InformationWeek Healthcare. “People want to engage where it's most convenient for them. So from our perspective, it was a business imperative to support that and move everything to a mobile experience.“

Many patients, especially those in underserved populations, don't have access to desktop computers but do have smartphones, he added. And even patients who do use PCs may prefer to have content delivered to them on mobile phones. Soon after Emmi's mobile platform became available in December, 10% of the patients who received Emmi content started accessing it on mobile devices.

When patients receive an e–mail saying that their physician wants them to read or view an Emmi program, they click on a link that takes them to that program on the company's website. No special app is required for mobile usage.

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Emmi measures start and completion rates for program viewing, which it feeds back to its hospital and physician clients so they know which patients are actually reading or viewing the content. The company's technology also allows it to determine what kind of device is being used.

Gross said that the company was pleasantly surprised to discover that people who used mobile devices to access Emmi content had completion rates very similar to those who used desktop PCs. “That far exceeded our expectations,“ he said, because some of the programs are 20 minutes in length and mobile device users are often in transit.

The other difference between PCs and mobile devices is the size of their screens. Although an iPad's screen is roughly similar in size to that of a notebook computer, smartphone screens are fairly small. So Emmi developed different versions of its programs for iPads and smartphones that take these form factors into account.

Emmi's mobility platform is one of several recent examples of providers pushing healthcare messages to patients via mobile devices. Partners Healthcare in Boston, for example, has successfully piloted the texting of messages to high–risk pregnant women to remind them of appointments, clinical milestones, fetal development, and how to prepare for childbirth.

Similarly, the University of California San Diego recently tested the federally funded Text4Baby program, a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health. Another texting program to educate patients about diabetes, called Text4Health, is being piloted in New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Detroit.

The Southeast Michigan Beacon Community, meanwhile, is planning to allow patients “to conduct a text message–based diabetes assessment and receive customized educational, goal setting, and tracking messages through a mobile health campaign.“ That's according to a recent post on the HealthITBuzz blog of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

All these initiatives suggest that healthcare providers are beginning to see the potential of mobile devices to engage patients in new ways that may be more effective than the desktop approach.

Healthcare providers must collect all sorts of performance data to meet emerging standards. The new Pay For Performance issue of InformationWeek Healthcare delves into the huge task ahead. Also in this issue: Why personal health records have flopped. (Free registration required.)

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