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Promoting Patient Access Across Vulnerable Populations

It’s been almost 15 years since the first iPhone was unveiled, a move that launched the mobile revolution. Now, approximately 85 percent of Americans own a smartphone and have access to about two million different apps. 

Physicians are in on the action, too. More than 90 percent of doctors own a smartphone, 88 percent of whom use their mobile devices frequently in the clinical setting. 

It seems that many patients are in favor of their healthcare providers utilizing mobile technology as part of their arsenal of care resources. According to a survey, three-quarters of patients believe physicians who integrate mobile technology are able to provide a faster and more convenient experience, and 57 percent of respondents prefer to communicate with physicians and office staff through mobile apps as opposed to calling the doctor’s office directly. 

As healthcare technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace, mobile health – or mHealth – has emerged as a popular tool for healthcare providers because of the convenience, efficiency and cost savings it offers. It enables patients to store and monitor their health records on their personal mobile devices, gather health information online, measure health metrics, participate in telehealth appointments, review test results and appointment summaries, pay medical bills, schedule appointments and complete check-in steps before even reaching the doctor’s office. 

Reaching Rural Residents 

More recently, mHealth is being used in providers’ strategies for addressing social determinants of health (SDOH). As we explained in our previous blog, social determinants of health are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes.  

One of the ways in which mHealth helps providers address the issues of health disparities and inequities is by offering better access to healthcare for residents of rural communities. Roughly 80 percent of rural residents own a smartphone, and mHealth applications that are sensitive to the user needs of these vulnerable populations have the potential to gain uptake. 

mHealth not only gives residents in rural areas increased access to physicians, health records, patient education and other services, it also renders improved outcomes and higher patient satisfaction. Many physicians believe mHealth apps can improve their patients’ health, and studies have found that the costs of care can be decreased by using mHealth applications for patient-centered care. 

mHealth apps and services provide rural residents with even more benefits by streamlining care processes, improving data accuracy and enhancing patient-physician communication. Patients who might not otherwise pay much attention to their health might become more proactive in their own healthcare decisions through support for self-management of their health. 

A prime example of employing mHealth to promote patient access is MSU Health Care’s implementation of Epion Health’s digital patient engagement tools to serve patients across the state of Michigan. Using Epion Check-In, patients can search for a provider, check in for their in-person or telehealth appointment and pay any copays and balances due – all from their mobile or desktop device – without having to remember any log-in credentials or download software to start the process. And with Epion EveryWhere, health systems can use automated campaigns and artificial intelligence to manage the unique needs of large patient populations at all points of the care continuum.

mHealth and Patient Engagement

The use of mobile technology and mHealth also offers marked advantages for healthcare providers striving to increase patient engagement, especially among specific populations often included in major SDOH categories. That’s likely one of the reasons more than half of healthcare chief information officers (CIOs) report that patient engagement technology is a top priority.

A study published in PLOS ONE found that patients connected to health resources via smartphones, tablets or computers had improved outcomes. It also noted that offering patients secure messaging with their providers and the ability to make appointments and see their lab results on mobile devices can lead to greater levels of engagement.  

For example, mHealth solutions such as digital check-in offer enhanced patient engagement along with increased privacy and improved patient flow. Patients who utilize digital check-in can use their tablet or smartphone to complete pre-visit administrative tasks even before they arrive for their appointment. Survey results found that more than half of patients would choose a doctor that let them fill out paperwork online before a visit, and 68 percent said they feel relief when their provider makes administration tasks digital. 

For healthcare providers, mHealth solutions utilized during the patient intake process promote streamlined registration and quicker and easier retrieval of completed patient forms, insurance verification and any additional components of their check-in process. Conversely, not having access to automated solutions on the front-end can result in increased patient wait times and medical errors and decreased satisfaction. 

As with digital check-in, remote patient monitoring (RPM) is an mHealth solution that gives providers the capability to treat different populations, including individuals with chronic conditions. In an online survey of leaders of community health centers and clinics, almost 90 percent of respondents cited chronic disease management as the area in which they’d like to more effectively engage patients. 

Using these types of digital solutions allows providers to engage with patients across multiple populations, even those hindered by SDOH challenges. Although technology isn’t the only answer to improved access to healthcare for those in rural and underserved communities, it should be a major part of any provider’s overall strategy.

Check out Epion CTO Matt Racki’s Five tips for a successful RPM program