mHEALTH tools: A bond between patients and pharmacists

December 10, 2013

Mobile health-monitoring systems can empower the patient and strengthen the position of the pharmacist on the healthcare team.

Mobile health (mHealth) is a rapidly expanding market sector that uses mobile communication technology to link people to their medical caregivers and other health resources. Recent innovations in mHealth range from mobile-connected fitness programs to home diagnostic products, to increasingly sophisticated medical devices for the management of chronic disease. All are oriented toward lifting healthcare out of the confines of the hospital or doctor’s office and delivering it any time, from anywhere.

Many chronically ill patients are accustomed to using medical monitoring equipment in their daily lives, so it’s only natural that mobile-optimized versions would be useful. Many of these devices include products that people frequently purchase in pharmacies today: blood-glucose meters, scales, medication-reminder systems, or blood-pressure cuffs. Unfortunately, the information derived from the use of these products is often not tracked, stored, or shared with a patient’s healthcare team in an accurate or timely way. mHealth monitoring can completely transform the way that data is collected and exchanged among a patient’s support system.

Providing insight

These monitoring systems also stand out within the mHealth world because they collect validated biometric information (information derived directly a patient’s own body), not self-reported data, which is limited in its usefulness.

For example, mHealth glucose-monitoring systems can reveal trends in an individual’s blood glucose levels that may indicate the need for education about lifestyle choices or medication adjustments. To enable this process, patients simply measure their glucose levels with a cellular-enabled meter; these readings are automatically uploaded to a database that stores this data and establishes trends over time. These readings are available to anyone with permission to view them, whether providers, caregivers, family members, or the patient’s local pharmacist.

For chronically ill individuals, the advantages of these systems are abundantly clear. These technologies give patients greater convenience and the self-knowledge they need to make good decisions about their health. And by connecting patients with their care teams and loved ones through the sharing of important health data, they also offer peace of mind.

Many of these systems are very easy to use; they resemble existing medical devices and do not require additional data input or even use of a mobile phone.

The pharmacist’s role

For pharmacists, mHealth monitoring systems present an opportunity to improve the health of patients while gaining a way to become a more integral part of their healthcare teams. Many of these systems feature equipment, such as meters and test strips, that can be purchased at a local pharmacy. Individuals will naturally turn to pharmacists for information about the value of these systems and instructions for their use.

Pharmacists, in turn, can take the opportunity to educate patients about the importance of monitoring adherence, medication compliance, and positive lifestyle choices.

For example, mHealth solutions for diabetes offer the pharmacist an opportunity to employ properly credentialed diabetes education services and be compensated by most insurers. Recent experiences in the U.K. National Health Service suggest that patients may be highly receptive to the participation of their neighborhood pharmacists in their diabetes management.

Some solutions offer pharmacists the ability to review blood-glucose readings and send patients occasional helpful tips and coaching, another means to encourage patients with diabetes stay close to their neighborhood pharmacists.

Improved profitability

mHealth monitoring systems can also help pharmacies improve their bottom lines. The availability at a pharmacy of an innovative, mobile-optimized technology has the potential to drive greater patient loyalty and optimize pharmacy spending.

This opportunity is especially significant in the case of patients with chronic conditions and related comorbidities. For example, patients living with diabetes spend eight times more than an average healthcare consumer does at the pharmacy, averaging $2,500 per year on medication, glucose monitoring products, and OTC supplies.

With the rate of chronic illness growing exponentially across a variety of populations, it stands to reason that mHealth systems designed to support these individuals will become much more common. Pharmacists who can anticipate this growth opportunity will be positioned to drive greater pharmacy spending while improving the health of their patients. 

Dr. Jonathan Javitt is CEO and vice chairman of Telcare, Inc. (www.telcare.com), which specializes in mobile diabetes management solutions.