Smart Health: Hospitals using smartphones to connect and engage with patients

smartphone patient engagementConnect with your patients… one smartphone at a time.

Today, smartphones can be found in the hands of 58% of American adults and they’re checking those phones at least once an hour. It only makes sense that this growing use of technology would carry over to healthcare.

As a healthcare professional and technology lover I’m always looking for better ways to connect patients with their care team. When I say better, I’m looking for options that engage patients, fit with their increasingly mobile lifestyle and help drive better outcomes. A recent FICO study caught my eye when it stated smartphone users want both health care alerts and are looking for a partner in their care.

Today, smartphones can be found in the hands of 58% of American adults and they’re checking those phones at least once an hour. It only makes sense that this growing use of technology would carry over to healthcare. If a person can be reminded about their upcoming hair appointment, why can’t they be reminded to refill their prescription? The FICO study also suggests that people are looking for a partner to help them manage their health.

This makes sense to me and it seems like smartphone alerts could be a successful engagement tool for doctors, hospitals and insurance providers. A quick Google search highlighted a few hospitals that are ahead of the curve. Take Desert Hospital in California, their outpatient pharmacy offers a smartphone app that lets their patients order refills as well as receive alerts and reminders about their medications.

Nyack Hospital in New York and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Missouri are using smartphone alerts to help reduce hospital readmissions. The goal is to monitor both medication adherence and refill status during that first, critical month following surgery. These hospitals found that not taking post-operative medications correctly and not getting prescriptions refilled were the biggest causes of hospital readmissions. By sending smartphone alerts, both hospitals were able to keep patients on their treatment regiments and reduce readmissions.

In the spirit of a true health partnership, the LewisGale Regional Health System in Virginia lets patients alert the hospital about their arrival to the emergency room. This reverse alert program allows the hospital to plan for needed resources and be better prepared to provide personalized patient care.

The smartphone alert programs offered by these hospitals shine a spotlight on the successful use of technology in healthcare. These examples highlight benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. They also demonstrate the value of patient engagement in improving outcomes.

Another Google search helped me pull together a list of tips and things to consider when thinking about starting a smartphone alert program for your organization.

  1. Think technology and effectiveness. How tech savvy is your patient demographic? What will be more effective, a text or app based alert program?
  1. Stay true to your voice. Keep in mind your healthcare profile, as well as the guidelines and policies of your organization.
  1. Know your patient demographic. Create alert programs to meet your patient’s needs, keep the information focused and clear.
  1. Understand cellular charges. What are the implications of potential cellular charges on patients using the alert program?
  1. Stay up-to-date. Follow industry changes in regulations, new research, guidelines and medications; update the program as needed.
  1. Know your geography. Smartphone alert programs are only as reliable as the cellular network they operate on. Where do your patients live, what’s the reception like in your area, will they receive the alerts?
  1. Define the timeframe for alerts. Research the best and worst times to send alerts. Understand the frequency needed to be effective.

The FICO study offers valuable learnings for healthcare providers seeking to engage patients. Smartphone alert programs provide an opportunity to stay connected, improve outcomes and to become a trusted partner in your patient’s healthcare.

Sun Protection: A Year-Round Gig

prevent sunburnDid you know that a whopping 80% of skin cancers are preventable? Yes, that’s right, I said 80% are preventable. As summer ends, people often put away the sunscreen and wide brimmed hats until next season. With skin cancer on the rise, that might not be your healthiest option. Protecting your skin from the sun is a year round job, no matter what the season or where you live.

Here are a few tips to help you be sun savvy all year long.

Keep Covered

Don’t put away that wide brimmed hat or baseball cap; use them year round to keep the sun off your face and neck. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants to protect your arms and legs.

Use Sunscreen – Every Day  

Whatever the season, whatever the weather make it habit to start your day with sunscreen. Use a daily moisturizing lotion that has sunscreen included; look for a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

Love The Shade

Out watching a sporting event, attending your child’s after school activity, gardening over the weekend? Find that shady spot, staying cool and sun protected at the same time. No shade? Bring an umbrella or pop up canopy.

Be Snow Prepared

Snow might be cold but it’s also reflective and can quickly magnify the sun’s rays. When skiing, playing the in the snow with your kids or shoveling the drive, be sure to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays and has an SPF of 30 or higher.

Ban The Tanning Bed

Year round tans are beautiful, as long as they’re fake. People who use tanning beds are 74% more likely to develop melanoma. Don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk. Self-tanning lotions and spray tans offer a safe alternative for a year round healthy glow.

Monitor Your Skin

You and your family are one of the best defenses against skin cancer. Get to know your skin, monitor moles and watch for changes. Help each other, check backs, scalps and hard to see places. When it comes to skin cancer, early detection and treatment can be life saving.

These tips are a good start for keeping your skin healthy and preventing skin cancers. Want more information? This list of skin cancer resources offers helpful information. Interested in learning about your sun screen options? The PASS Coalition is here to help.







How do you plan to celebrate American Heart Month?

hands holding a string of paper hearts up to the sun during sunDid you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking more lives each year than cancer?

Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women and that 90% of us have at least one heart disease related risk factor? I find this information disconcerting, if not downright scary. This seems like something every woman should know and act upon.

During the month of February we celebrate American Heart Month. This is an opportunity to bring awareness to a heart-healthy lifestyle and ask the question, what can I do, right now, to help prevent and even reverse heart disease?

Eating a heart-healthy diet is one step on the path to preventing heart disease. Making small changes in your daily diet can reap big health benefits.

Here are five ways to eat heart-healthy:

Limit The Salt In Your Diet

Eating a lot of salt (or sodium) can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. You can reduce the amount of salt in your diet by limiting what you add to recipes and your daily meals. A big source of the salt we consume comes from canned and processed foods. Reading labels and buying low sodium versions of your favorite foods is one way to reduce your daily intake of sodium. Another option is to make more of your meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients and herbs for flavoring.

Say Yes To Whole Grains And High Fiber Foods

Fiber helps you feel full longer and can help lower bad cholesterol, and whole grains are higher in fiber and nutrients than processed and refined foods. What should you be eating? Try whole-grain breads, high-fiber cereals (5 or more grams of fiber per serving), brown rice, wild rice, whole-grain pasta, steel-cut oatmeal and ground flaxseed. What should you be removing from your diet? Skip the white bread, frozen waffles, donuts, granola bars, high-sugar breakfast cereals, flavored oatmeal, cakes, pies and crackers.

Load Up On Fruits and Vegetables 

Fruits and veggies are low in calories and high in fiber, making them a smart choice for a heart- healthy diet. They’re a good source of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, and there are substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. A few tips for adding fruits and veggies to your diet include:

  • Make your veggies finger food. Wash and cut up carrots, celery, or cucumbers (use whatever vegetables you like) ahead of time and have them ready for snacking.
  • Keep fruit handy. Have a bowl of apples, oranges and bananas on the counter as a go-to healthy snack.
  • Tuck fruits and veggies into your purse or backpack. Make it easy to bring along that bag of carrot sticks or bunch of grapes.
  • Plan your meals to include more fruits and veggies. Start dinner with a fruit salad or have fresh fruit for dessert. Pick a vegetable side dish like asparagus or Brussels sprouts to go along with your grilled chicken.
  • Cook with veggies, adding them to your recipes for a boost in fiber and nutrients. Toss a cup of broccoli into your spaghetti sauce, use salsa as a topping or add veggie meatballs to that pasta dish.

Love the Good Fats

Your cholesterol levels play an important role in your heart health. There is good cholesterol (your HDL), and bad cholesterol (your LDL). Unhealthy levels of the bad cholesterol can put you at greater risk for heart disease. What can you do to help manage your cholesterol levels? Love the good fats.

Saturated and trans fats are the bad guys, the ones you want to eliminate from your diet. Unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the good guys. How can you tell the difference? Generally, most “bad” fats are solid at room temperature. Here are a few simple ways to love the good fats:

  • Stay away from solid fats like butter, margarine, lard, bacon fat, or shortenings.
  • When food shopping, buy lean meats.
  • Make your salad more substantial by adding almonds or avocado slices – both have plenty of good fats.
  • Find new toppings to replace those with saturated and trans fats. Substitute nonfat plain yogurt for sour cream; put salsa on that baked potato; and don’t butter your bread: use a low fat fruit spread instead.
  • When cooking, replace margarine, butter or lard with healthy oils like olive, canola or sunflower oil.
  • Read the labels: it may say “reduced fat,” but is it really healthy? Look for hidden and bad fats like lard or the words “partially hydrogenated” (that’s a fancy word for trans fats). Check the amount of fat in your breakfast cereal – you might just be surprised what you find.

Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet

Add fish to your diet. Replacing a meat dish with a fish entrée once or twice a week is a smart way to further reduce the unhealthy fat from your diet. Certain fish have the added benefit of being high in omega-3 fatty acids, a substance that helps in the fight against bad cholesterol and works to keep your heart healthy. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, trout and herring.

So how do you plan to celebrate American Heart Month? I’m starting with a trip to my local market to pick up some fresh fruit, veggies, non-fat Greek yogurt, salmon and the list goes on…

I’m celebrating by eating heart-healthy and making it a daily habit.