New smart mobile health (or mHealth) technologies are changing the way patients track information about diagnosed conditions. A new study examined the health and economic effects of mHealth technologies on outcomes in diabetes patients in Asia. The study concluded that patients who used the apps had better health outcomes and were able to regulate their health behavior more effectively than patients who did not use mHealth applications. They also had fewer hospital visits and lower medical costs.
The study was conducted by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and New York University (NYU). It has been accepted for publication and appears in MIS Quarterly, a publication of the Management Information Systems Research Center.
“Given the importance of health behaviors to well-being, health outcomes and disease processes, mHealth technologies offer significant potential to facilitate patient lifestyle and behavior change through patient education, improved autonomous self-regulation and perceived competence,” said Beibei Li, professor of Information systems and management at the Heinz College of the CMU, which co-authorized the study.
The relatively new area of mHealth includes mobile computing, medical sensors and communication technologies for health services (e.g. the treatment of chronic diseases). mHealth applications can run on smartphones, tablets, sensors and cloud-based computer systems that collect all health data from people. The global mHealth market is estimated to have reached $ 49 billion by the end of 2020. Still, few studies have assessed the technology’s effectiveness in changing patient behavior and outcomes.
In this study, the researchers wanted to find out how mHealth applications induce individuals to change their behavior in order to meet recommended approaches to achieving specific health goals. Researchers measured compliance using detailed patient activities (e.g., daily walking steps, exercise time, sleep patterns, food intake) measured by the app, as well as general health outcomes, hospital visits, and medical expenses.
The researchers have partnered with a leading mHealth company that offers one of Asia’s largest mobile health platforms specializing in diabetes. In the study, 1,070 adult patients were randomly assigned to different groups for three months: some patients used the mHealth app, some did not, and some a web-based version of the app. Among the patients in the group who used the mHealth app, some received personalized SMS reminders while others received non-personalized text messages. The researchers interviewed all participants before the start of the study and five months after the start of the study. Questions asked included demographics, medication and medical history, blood sugar and hemoglobin levels, frequency of hospital visits, and medical costs.
The study found that patients using the mHealth app lowered their blood sugar and hemoglobin levels even after checking the individual effects on an individual level. Patients who used the app also exercised more, slept more, and ate more healthily. And they had fewer hospital visits and lower medical costs.
The authors suggest that patient adoption and use of the mHealth app was associated with significant behavioral changes toward healthier diets and lifestyles. In this way, users became more autonomously self-regulated with their health behaviors, and this increasing intrinsic motivation helped them become more engaged, consistent and stable in their behavior, which led to improved health outcomes. The mHealth platform also enabled increased use of telemedicine, which in turn led to fewer hospital visits and lower medical costs for patients.
The study also found that the mHealth platform was more effective at improving patient health outcomes than a web-based (PC) version of the same app. And non-personalized text messages have typically been more effective at changing patient behavior than personalized messages, possibly because personalized messages can be viewed as intrusive, compulsive, and annoying.
Among the limitations of the study, the authors note that this study mainly focused on participants with type II diabetes, who, unlike type I diabetes or gestational diabetes, associate directly with self-management about diet or lifestyle. Therefore, the research is not necessarily applicable to patients with other types of diabetes.
“Our results provide important insights into the design of mHealth apps through a better understanding of patient health behaviors and interactions with the platform,” suggests Anindya Ghose, professor of economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, who co-authored the study Has. “This knowledge can be of great value to both healthcare mobile platform developers and policymakers in improving the design of smart and connected healthcare infrastructures through the sustainable use of emerging technologies.”
Carnegie Mellon University