mHealth and patient engagement: a delicate duet

December 13, 2014 in Medical Technology

Patient engagement is one of the more popular topics in the mHealth landscape these days, and with the mHealth Summit right around the corner (really, December isn’t that distant), it’s sure to work its way into many a conversation.

But will mobile health technologies ultimately bring the consumer and doctor closer together or drive them farther apart?

Think about it. Consumers want more access to and control over their health data, and mHealth tools are making this possible. They’re accumulating reams of data from health and fitness devices, home health monitoring tools, portable blood pressure cuffs, weight scales, and so on and so forth. AND they want to see what’s in their electronic medical record as well. They’re taking this information, then logging in WebMD or any other consumer-facing website and, in essence, diagnosing themselves.

That’s creating some push-back from doctors, who rightfully worry that consumers could actually suffer from having access to too much information. They can come to wrong conclusions – perhaps misdiagnosing a serious illness, over-emphasizing a minor concern or heading off in the wrong direction altogether. They need a filter, someone who can help them with this data to draw the right conclusions and develop the proper care management plan.

Enter the doctor.

But at a time when physicians are faced with more demands on their time and expertise, the idea of becoming a consumer’s “health coach” isn’t high on their list of priorities. They want to be doctors, practice medicine, save lives … not necessarily tell you what to eat or when to exercise. They might want to try and include this conversation in the context of a meaningful (and, let’s face it, billable) healthcare encounter, or they might want to delegate this to a nurse or office associate.

This is where patient engagement and consumer engagement start to separate, and where the mHealth community as a whole really needs to sit down and hash things out.

Consumers have every right to their health data, but they should be made to understand that such access comes with responsibilities – namely, that any conclusions drawn from that data need to be vetted by someone who’s had the training and experience. Likewise, physicians need to understand that if they want to succeed in this new consumer-centered healthcare landscape, they’ve got to work with consumers, not hold them at arm’s length and manage health data like some treasured commodity.

As consumers, you have a right to your health information. As clinicians, you have a right to ensuring that such information is used properly. It’s a delicate give-and-take that mHealth is just now addressing, and which should be the subject of some fascinating discussions in the near future.

Starting with the mHealth Summit, I hope.

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