The interest in mobile health (mHealth) shows no signs of waning. That goes for both patients and doctors. A 2016 survey found that patients want more digital health tools from their doctors: 59 percent of all health-insured patients surveyed, and 70 percent of millennials, said they would choose a primary care doctor who offers a mobile app (allowing patients to make appointments, see bills, view health data, etc.) over one that does not.

Physicians are “enthusiastic” about the adoption of digital health tools, as well, according to a 2016 survey from the American Medical Association (AMA). However, interest and hype don’t necessarily translate into use. Here, find out which mHealth tools are worth it, which don’t yet make the grade, and what these tools need to turn doctors’ enthusiasm into adoption.

The main barriers to mHealth adoption

Approximately 85 percent of the 1,300 physicians surveyed by the AMA believe that digital health tools could improve patient care and practice efficiencies, reported mHealthIntelligence.com. The survey covered telemedicine and telehealth, mobile health, wearables, remote monitoring, and mobile applications (apps).

Doctors’ top concerns about mHealth include liability coverage, data privacy, integration with EHRs, and billing and reimbursement.

However, most technologies are still below the adoption rate that typically ensures their success, noted the AMA. The main barriers? Liability coverage, data privacy, integration with EHRs, and billing and reimbursement are at the top of doctors’ list of concerns. Overcoming these will affect adoption the most, the survey found. Doctors also look for mHealth tools that are easy to use and proven to be effective.

Benefits for small practices

The AMA survey found that large practices and health systems are using the most digital health technology. But for smaller practices that lack the resources of large providers, there are opportunities to get creative with mHealth tools.

While the incentives aren’t there yet for solo or small practices to completely embrace mHealth, this will change in the next several years, physician and mHealth advocate Tom Giannulli, M.D., told mHealthIntelligence.com. He advises doctors to start dipping a toe into the digital health waters rather than ignoring the trend.

Dip a toe into mHealth with messaging apps, patient portals, and online appointment scheduling tools.

Start slowly by adopting a messaging app that lets you communicate with patients, an online appointment-scheduling tool, and/or a patient portal to provide easy access to their medical records. As we’ve said in previous posts, these tools are often already a part of many EHR systems. Another idea is to adopt a technology-based patient education program, such as Rendia. Because the informational videos live in the cloud, patients can access them on their smartphones before and after the appointment. Doctors can send them to patients via email, a patient portal, or share them on an iPad in the exam room.

For more on this topic, see Interactive Anatomy Model, Exam Mode: Now Available for iPad

mHealth tools that deliver

Clinical decision support (CDS) tools have crossed the hurdle to adoption, with 43 percent of doctors already using them and 38 percent expecting to adopt them within three years, according to the AMA survey.

A combination of mHealth tools and platforms – including HealthMap, an online database created by Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital – is credited with containing the Ebola outbreak that devastated parts of sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, reported mHealthintelligence.com. CDS tools are also providing mobile access to resources for providers taking on the Zika virus.

mHealth tools that have crossed the hurdle to adoption include technology that aids clinical decision support and patient engagement.

Another area of mHealth that’s showing results is patient engagement technology. Orthopedic surgeon John Tiberi, M.D., has been using PeerWell’s PreHab program, a smartphone app that provides step-by-step preparation for patients undergoing joint replacement surgery.

When first adopting the technology, Dr. Tiberi told PatientEngagementHIT.com that he was concerned that his patient population, which tends to be older, would not be receptive. However, he soon found that wasn’t the case.

The PreHab app replaced previous patient engagement strategies that were ineffective and inconvenient, such as pre-surgery prep classes and packets. The app allows providers to customize the educational information to both the surgeon’s and the patient’s preferences.

“Utilizing technology allows the patient who otherwise might show up to the hospital on the day of their surgery having done or thought of nothing to be more prepared and have a better outcome,” Dr. Tiberi said. He also reports that the app has caused an uptick in patient satisfaction.

For more on this topic, see Digital Health Tools: How to Keep Patients Engaged

Apps to watch

Which mHealth tools haven’t lived up to the hype – yet? Virtual doctor visits “have not yet crossed the chasm of adoption,” the AMA survey reported, with just 29 percent of doctors saying they currently offer them. Liability and reimbursement are the main sticking points.

Remote monitoring and management apps, particularly for patients with chronic conditions, is another area of mHealth that hasn’t yet made the cut for most doctors. While these tools show promise, safety and adherence need to be improved, as does integration with current systems. You can read more about AMA efforts to advance digital health innovation here.

Rendia’s interactive anatomy software, Exam Mode, has been helping doctors have more meaningful conversations with patients for the past year. Inspired by mHealth, we decided to take Exam Mode to the next level by developing an iPad app that lets you bring that anatomy with you, wherever the conversation takes you.

Sign up for a trial of Rendia today to see what Exam Mode for iPad has to offer your practice and your patients.