You’re getting close to 10,000 steps. Burned calories are being tracked. Today’s weight loss will be logged. Congratulations. Now what?

Wider market for wearables

If you are doing any of these things on your smartphone or tablet, you aren’t alone. Millions of consumers are tapping into devices and mobile apps aimed at helping them monitor their activity and, presumably, foster a healthy lifestyle.

The estimates vary, but the global mobile health market could reach $21.5 billion by 2020. Earlier this year, research firm Tractica projected worldwide shipments of health care wearables to hit 97.6 million units by 2021, up from 2.5 million this year. That is just a subset of mobile health (mHealth); the technology has evolved from devices that merely track steps to tools that can read blood pressure or help determine if your child has an ear infection.

New paradigm for care

It is worth taking a step back to understand the seismic changes that are occurring in the nation’s health care system and the role mHealth can play. Insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, are moving away from the traditional method of paying hospitals and doctors based on volume to a model that reimburses them for value, or outcomes.

“Embracing mHealth is a part of a broader recognition by providers that they must meet consumers where they live, work and play.”

At the same time, patients are being asked to assume a larger financial burden for the cost of their care. This comes in the form of high-deductible health plans, co-pays and more out-of-pocket expenses. Patients are also acting like savvy consumers these days, shopping for health care that best meets their needs and, importantly, their expectations.

As these broader market forces take hold, it is imperative that consumers (patients) start to have more meaningful interactions with their health care providers. MHealth can help facilitate those interactions. For instance, Carolinas Healthcare System last year launched MyCarolinas Tracker. The app, which is available for both iOS and Android mobile devices, can pull data from more than 70 mHealth technologies and integrate it into the health system’s electronic health record, thereby giving clinicians a more holistic view of a patient’s health and habits. The app creates reports that patients can then share with their doctor or a health coach as they work together to achieve specific health goals.

How more data helps

Embracing mHealth is a part of a broader recognition by providers that they must meet consumers where they live, work and play. We’ve come to expect that kind of connectivity in virtually every other aspect of our lives—using a picture to deposit a check, binge watching “Game of Thrones” whenever we’d like, hailing an Uber car in an instant or booking a table for dinner with the swipe of a finger. At Carolinas Healthcare System, nearly 60 percent of patient interactions on the patient portal now occur on mobile devices. That will only continue to grow.

Data and device integration also enables care teams at Hackensack Medical Center to proactively influence patient behavior. As data on a patient’s weight or glucose levels comes in via a mHealth app, an analytic tool at the hospital can help clinicians determine if the patient is adhering to a treatment plan. If the patient, for instance, isn’t getting in their 10,000 steps, the system will alert them with a text or message that tells them to get moving. Similarly, physicians get alerts and are prompted to check in with patients when the data warrants that level of intervention.

However, mHealth initiatives extend beyond care delivery and actually start before the patient even gets to the hospital. Patients can take a selfie and photos of their driver’s license and insurance card and the system will run a facial recognition program to match the insurance ID number to the patient. If they have an existing registration number, the records are linked; if not, a new medical number is generated. The mHealth market will continue to mature in the coming years. As it does, health IT leaders and clinicians like those at Carolinas Healthcare System, Hackensack Medical Center and elsewhere across that country will continue to seek innovative solutions that lead to improved health for patients and our communities.