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Mobile health: get with the program

Mhealth tools are improving patient experience and outcomes.

For many of us, there’s no replacement for an unrushed, face-to-face consultation with our own health provider, someone familiar with our medical history. That’s still the gold standard of healthcare interaction here at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. But there are times that those visits are impractical and sometimes even impossible. Sometimes it’s simpler to get care online.

Technological ingenuity arose from the pandemic’s isolation, overwhelmed providers and surge in market demand. In healthcare, that meant expanded digital care that came with some new advantages. Mobile health (known in the industry as “mhealth”) apps and other online tools are improving patients’ access to care. Ultimately, their use can lead to improved patient outcomes.

Easy access to care has long been a leading barrier to Arkansans’ health. But monitoring patients at home and providing care remotely has never been easier. Now, using different devices and apps, providers can check in real time what’s happening with a patient’s blood sugar levels, heart rate, oxygen and other important metrics without the patient needing to leave their favorite recliner. Providers can teleconference with patients or each other and consult with experts around the state or nation. This improved access to care and expertise for patients and health professionals is an exciting development in our state where few rural areas have enough facilities and providers—especially specialists—to monitor their patients.

Who’s using mhealth apps?

Workforces are getting younger as Boomers retire.

Every year, there are more digital natives (people who grew up with computers and mobile phones since birth) in the workforce who have less hesitancy to embrace new technologies. Many of today’s workers expect conveniences like telehealth, wearable health devices, patient portals and electronic communications about their healthcare to be integrated into their health plans and treatment regimens. Arkansas Blue Cross provides these tools as options members can choose to use if they are comfortable with them.

Why now?

Mhealth is big business that’s rapidly getting bigger. In 2020, the mobile health apps market was estimated to be about $25 billion, expected to rise to $314.6 billion by 2028. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 91% of office-based primary care physicians used telemedicine in 2021. For all provider specialties, telemedicine use rose from 15.4% in 2019 to 85.9% by 2021. It continues to grow.

Of course, the growth toward adopting more tech tools has been happening for decades. What came as a surprise was the effect a long pandemic would have on digital health adoption and Americans’ comfort using online tools, from chronic care management apps to online grocery shopping. Suddenly, patients worldwide began having virtual visits with providers or using apps and wearable home monitoring devices that transmit important patient data like vital signs, blood pressure spikes, glucose levels or sleep quality to their healthcare team.

Arkansas Blue Cross plans include access to Virtual Health so members can connect with experienced physicians and pediatricians from their computer or smartphone.  Virtual Health is especially useful when members aren’t able to make an appointment with their primary care provider. The Virtual Health physician will inform them if they need to be seen in person for further tests and follow-up care.

It’s one of numerous telehealth and mobile health products members can use through an Arkansas Blue Cross health plan.

Managing chronic conditions

Chronic condition management is also easier thanks to these new digital tools. Patients with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other serious health conditions have for years manually recorded their health data at home to discuss with their provider at their next visit. Today, having an app (there are many on the market that their provider might recommend) recording data on the go wherever and whenever patients have their phone saves time and energy and can boost the data’s accuracy.

Health technology often can detect patterns, trends and symptoms in real time. If the user opts to share the data with their providers, the captured information can drive treatment and guide providers in managing their condition.

Another use of mhealth in this field is to enhance communication between clinicians and patients who are sometimes hard to reach by phone. At Arkansas Blue Cross, our case management team uses our own app,

Portable portals

Digital health information hubs live at the heart of it all. At Arkansas Blue Cross, Blueprint Portal empowers members to have clear, 24/7 access to their personalized healthcare plan details. This includes:

  • Their paid, pending and denied claims
  • A dashboard of how much they’ve already paid toward their individual and family deductibles and out-of-pocket costs to date
  • Their Explanations of Benefits (EOBs)
  • A shareable, digital member ID card for easy access and transmission
  • Our Find Care and Costs tool, allowing users to find and compare in-network providers and facilities, including their ratings by other users, and research total costs of procedures they may be anticipating
  • Access to their health plan documents including coverage details
  • Registration for Virtual Health
  • Blueprint Wellness portal full of wellness education, goal-setting tools, nutrition tracking, journeys, solo or group wellness competitions, and personal wellness coaching*
  • Pharmacy information, including their history of prescriptions and dosages and cost comparison of different drugs and pharmacies*

*Availability dependent on plan type

Other uses

Behavioral health is another important area employing digital tools creatively. Behavioral mhealth can extend access to care and prevent mental or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) crises. And besides convenience, it can encourage reaching out for help by enhancing privacy; people suffering or worried about their loved ones can use behavioral health apps to ask discreet questions, report symptoms, reach crisis hotlines or get links to free or low-cost counseling or other resources without leaving their homes. For example, Bright Heart Health provides virtual therapy for adult members with SUD, and BrightLine Health is available virtually for pediatric behavioral health needs.

Millions of people use other behavioral health apps in preventive, positive ways like encouraging mindfulness and calmness with guided meditations, breathing exercises or simple gratitude prompts. In rural areas where access to behavioral health providers can be difficult, digital behavioral health can be a much-needed lifeline.

Expanding rural access to healthcare

As helpful as these mhealth apps can be, reliable internet or mobile connectivity is necessary for them to work. We predict the explosive growth of mhealth apps and other digital health tools will be a driver of building out high-speed broadband internet throughout our state’s rural countryside. When Arkansas has that in place, every Arkansan will have countless digital tools at their fingertips — apps ready to improve their healthcare experience, delivery and outcomes.

If your workforce is already connected online, there’s no reason to wait; give them a robust health plan with telehealth solutions they can use if they choose. It’s not just your business that reaps the benefits. Mobile health can improve our entire healthcare system through extending access, encouraging efficiency, enabling communication, saving costs and enhancing the quality of services provided. There’s a world of digital health possibilities already out there ready to be adopted.

Just connect to it.

For information to help your employees understand Blueprint Portal, Virtual Health and other important health plan topics, download one of our toolkits for materials to share with your staff