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Mobile apps in healthcare: The impact on patient engagement

Posted by Melissa Nelson on Mar 14, 2019 2:02:00 PM
Melissa Nelson
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Should You Have an App for That?

I talk to a lot of executives and clinicians about engaging and educating patients. They overwhelmingly want to know how to best reach today’s consumers with health information. As I talk about interactive, mobile messaging, a common question is, “Do you have an app for that?”

When thinking about using a downloadable app, the questions I always ask are: Will patients use it? Will it capture their attention and engage them to come back for more next week? Will it be easy for them? With 77% of Americans using smartphones, it’s important to understand how people use apps in their daily lives to understand their potential impact on patient engagement.

Getting a patient to find and download an app from the 2 million available in both the Apple and Android stores can be a challenge. And that’s only half the battle. Most apps are used only once, and deleted within a few months. With so much competition for attention and challenging odds for long-term adoption, depending on apps as a primary tool for communication can mean that patients will miss out on receiving information that is critical to their care.

Push notifications can reach customers who aren’t actively using an app, but these messages are often perceived as intrusive, if they’re even noticed at all. In addition, once a push notification is read or cleared, it’s difficult to access it again and can require logging into the app to get more information. Push notifications work well for short and time-sensitive updates such as prescription status reminders, but comprehensive care information is better shared through other channels.

Surprising Statistics on Text Messaging and What They Mean for Healthcare

Solely relying on apps for patient engagement and communication can leave the most vulnerable patients behind. Research shows that mobile health app users are generally younger, more educated, and have higher levels of e-health literacy skills than non-users. With a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis indicating that people ages 55 and over account for more than half of total health spending, reaching this population with information to improve care and patient outcomes—and to reduce costs—is critical. And what about the 17% of people who have cell phones not capable of downloading apps? 

Mobile messaging eliminates these barriers. Messages delivered right to a patient’s phone do not require downloading, logging in, or remembering to go back and check for new info later. Accessible and convenient, texts and emails are optimal channels for patient engagement. Health consumers are already checking these channels multiple times a day, so delivering health information in this way seamlessly integrates it into patients’ lives. Plus, email and texts allow for two-way communication, providing an easy way for patients to connect with their care team if they need assistance.

The hospitals that I work with hear time and time again from their patients that they appreciate the ease of receiving relevant health information via email and text message. And that’s what we’re all here for—to help patients become confident partners in their care.

Learn more about reaching your patients through the technology they already use, and why this is key to patient engagement and activation.


Topics: Improving Patient Outcomes, Patient Experience, Texting in Healthcare, patient activation, Mobile Technology