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Are mobile apps the key to reducing hospital readmissions?

Posted May 18 2011 4:47pm

by Jenn Riggle

One of the major goals of health reform and accountable care is to reduce hospital readmissions--and mobile apps have the potential to make this happen.

Is this an overstatement? I don't think so.

Mobile apps give people the tools to work with their caregivers to manage chronic health conditions such as diabetes and congestive heart failure. That way, clinicians can monitor patients' vital signs in their homes so potential problems can be identified earlier, before they become life-threatening.


Readmission rates
have become top-of-mind for hospitals lately. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which goes into effect next year, has established benchmarks for hospital readmission rates. Initially, it will track readmission rates for congestive heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia, and hospitals that don’t meet the benchmarks will lose 1 percent of their pay. However, by 2014, the government will track three more conditions with high readmission rates: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery bypass surgery and coronary angioplasty. And more importantly, penalties for high readmission rates will increase to 3 percent.

The good news is that people are willing to use mobile apps and take a more active role in managing their health. The Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study of more than 100 heart-failure patients in Toronto that showed they were comfortable using mobile apps to manage their condition.

There are now thousands of medical apps available for the iPhone, including the H eartWise Blood Pressure Tracker . This app not only helps people track their blood pressure, resting heart rate and weight, but also offers an export feature that allows people to send their results in a formatted report, spreadsheet or as plain text directly to their doctor.

In January, a slew of new mobile health devices were introduced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Devices included AliveCor's iPhone ECG , a wireless case that attaches to the iPhone 4 and pairs with an app to provide a clinical quality electrocardiogram, which can then send this information to clinicians.

Even though mobile health or mHealth has the potential to revolutionize healthcare, it also presents some major challenges, such as increasing clinical workloads and raising important questions about liability . For example, if someone buys a health app and experiences a major health issue as a result of using the app, who is liable--the app store, the developer, the carrier, or all of the above? According to Georgia Sen. Josh McKoon , who's an attorney for a law firm that specializes in healthcare law, they could all be sued because "right now, there are no hard and fast rules."

Nevertheless, hospitals can't afford not to use this powerful new tool that is, literally, at their fingertips.

Jenn Riggle is an associate vice president and social media leader of the Health Practice at CRT/tanaka. She has 20 years of public relations experience in issues such as health care marketing and public relations, social media in health care, national media relations and strategic communications planning. She regularly engages in social media, both on Twitter (@riggrl) and frequently blogs about social media and health care issues for The Buzz Bin , a PR and marketing blog.

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