According to a Pew Research Center report released last month, Americans are engaged and connected like never before. Nearly 70 percent own a smartphone, and 45 percent have a tablet-like device. It’s clear that almost all of us interact with mobile devices on a daily basis. Wearable sensor technology as well as connected watches and other mobile monitors are becoming more commonplace. And these new devices have the potential to significantly impact health care delivery in the U.S. today.
Data from numerous studies focused on the long-term management of diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, have shown that when patients are engaged and actively participating in their care, outcomes improve. New devices and tools that incorporate the technology and power of the now ubiquitous smartphone have the potential to become an extension of a patient’s health care provider and may ultimately change the way in which patients interact with the medical system in the future. Moreover, these devices may allow public health officials to better monitor and screen for diseases in large populations and ultimately help improve preventive strategies and access to care for millions of Americans.
This month, at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions, a cardiovascular conference that attracts researchers from around the world, data was presented demonstrating that when patients used mobile devices to track diet and activity behaviors – in combination with remote “coaching” from a health care professional – they actually made better choices and adopted healthier lifestyles. Specifically, the study showed that those patients who were engaged via mobile devices actually increased fruit and vegetable intake, decreased sedentary screen time and decreased their saturated fat intake. In addition, engaged patients appeared to have increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Mobile engagement helped make all these behavioral and lifestyle changes possible, which will most likely result in lower risk for heart disease over the long term.
While there are only a small number of studies that have systematically evaluated the power of mobile technology in improving the health status of Americans, these devices have great potential to not only help change behavior and track symptoms but also may have significant applications in the treatment and ongoing management of a chronic diseases. Mobile technologies that facilitate self-monitoring and provide real-time feedback may be a key component of preventive medicine in the future.