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Manage chronic diseases with smartphones and smart-tech inhalers

Originally posted November 5, 2013 by Kathleen Koster on benefitnews.com

If people with chronic conditions only spend about an hour a year with their physician, how can they stay adherent with medication and their disease education for the 8,759 hours they’re outside the doctor’s office? The most promising answer is through mobile devices.

Health plan providers and plan sponsors can use mobile devices to monitor and engage participants with notifications, such as medication reminders, when it is most convenient for them. Backsliders know where they are failing through self-monitoring in real time and coaches monitoring their results can intervene when necessary.

“People need to be thinking about lifestyle choices when they’re living life. People don’t live their life at a desk,” says David Bjork, president of Telcare, Inc. He adds that lifestyle changes occur in the “between” moments, such as before and after work, during lunch or at home. Disease management programs and outreach need to encourage healthy behavior at all times.

Bjork insists that the current disease management strategy and methodology need to evolve; most of today’s programs identify people who are most expensive in claims data last year and manages them in order to save money for the future. However, he says, employers need to look at diseases from the wide mouth of the funnel and help people earlier before they escalate into high-risk categories and become high health plan utilizers.

Mobile technology is no different, says Bjork. Mobile outreach is deployed to focus on the most expensive, high-risk patients in a population. New solutions have emerged that collect data from more patients and track a wide range of peoples’ activity, biometric data or clinical metrics. And he believes more will come.

“The problem is that disease management as we know it has failed,” said Jonathan C. Javitt, MD, CEO and chief medical officer at Telcare, Inc. during a presentation at the Care Continuum Alliance Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz. These antiquated outreach programs too often identify the high-cost individuals from last year without taking into account who will be high cost this year or the year after that. He believes mobile solves this problem by engaging everyone in a population and can monitor and intervene with people in real-time before they become high risk.

Bjork agrees that tier-models focusing on certain diagnosis groups with high levels of utilization are missing an opportunity because certain disease states or condition states are left completely unguarded. For instance, disease management programs that focus on diabetes should also target obesity since that often leads to diabetes.

Mobile solutions for diabetes allow individuals to manage their blood sugar levels by sharing blood glucose levels through the cloud to the care management coach or vendor can monitor their levels behind the scenes. Mobile outreach can help manage pre-diabetes and weight as well by tracking a participant’s activity.

Carolina Advanced Health uses an online database to collect participant metrics and monitor them in a team-based approach with nutrition experts, care managers and pharmacists through disease registries. Participants self-collect their glucose levels through a mobile platform, which sends the data to health professionals. If the care team notices a blip in blood glucose levels after lunchtime, a nutritionist can call the patient immediately and ask them about their activity and meals that day to determine what caused the increase. The system educates the patient while monitoring their health metrics in real-time.

Self-management can get good results, explained Thomas Warcup, medical director at Carolina Advanced Health, but “when you add a team you get greater results because you’re watching the data on a real-time basis.”

Bjork believes mobile outreach like this is just the beginning. He predicts the mobile outreach for diabetes will fan out to managing other diseases. For example, blood pressure levels, asthma, and weight will all be observed in a more mobile way.

“We will start having methodologies for monitoring people in their own settings to manage behavior and intervene early on and not wait for the first episode to occur,” he says.

One smart-tech inhaler gathers data whenever a patient uses it, helping understand what triggers an asthma attack and how to avoid one. Propeller Health’s inhaler shows when and where the patient uses it and combines this data with weather information (such as wind and UV index) as well as traffic information. With this data, they can map a city for an asthmatic patient so they can avoid bad air locations and prevent potential asthma attacks.