Study: Diabetes Patients' Use of Mobile Health App Found to Improve Health Outcomes, Lower Medical Costs

March 3, 2021
Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

The study found patients who used mHealth applications had better health outcomes and were able to regulate their health behavior more effectively than patients who did not use these apps, in addition to fewer hospital visits and lower medical costs.

A new study examined the health and economic impacts of mobile health (mHealth) technologies on the outcomes of diabetes patients in Asia with the emergence of smart technologies that are changing the way patients track information related to diagnosed conditions.

The study, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and New York University, found patients who used mHealth applications had better health outcomes and were able to regulate their health behavior more effectively than patients who did not use these apps, in addition to fewer hospital visits and lower medical costs.

“Given the importance of health behaviors to well-being, health outcomes, and disease processes, mHealth technologies offer significant potential to facilitate patients’ lifestyle and behavior modification through patient education, improved autonomous self-regulation, and perceived competence,” said study co-author Beibei Li, professor of information systems and management at CMU’s Heinz College, in a press release.

The rapidly growing area of mHealth includes mobile computing, medical sensor, and communications technologies used for health care services. mHealth applications can operate on smart phones, tablets, sensors, and cloud-based computing systems, all of which collect health data on individuals.

The researchers sought to determine how mHealth applications persuade individuals to modify their behavior to comply with recommended approaches to obtain certain health goals. Next, the researchers measured compliance by examining detailed patient activities, such as daily walking steps and sleeping pattern as measured by the app, as well as general health outcomes, hospital visits, and medical expenses, according to the press release.

The researchers partnered with a top mHealth firm that provides one of the largest mobile health platforms in Asia specializing in diabetes care. The study randomly assigned 1070 adult patients to different groups for 3 months: patients using the mHealth app, patients not using the app, and patients using a web-based version of the app.

In the group of patients who used the mHealth app, some received personalized text message reminders, whereas others received non-personalized text messages. The researchers interviewed all participants before the study began and 5 months after it ended.

Questions asked included queries about demographics, medication and medical history, blood glucose and hemoglobin levels, frequency of hospital visits, and medical costs, according to the press release.

The findings showed that patients who used the mHealth app reduced their blood glucose and hemoglobin levels, even after controlling for individual-level fixed effects. Patients who used the app also exercised more, slept more, and ate healthier food, with fewer hospital visits and lower medical expenses.

The study authors suggest that patients’ adoption and use of the mHealth app was associated with significant behavioral modifications toward a healthier diet and lifestyle. The users became more autonomously self-regulated with their health behavior. This increasing intrinsic motivation helped them become more engaged, persistent, and stable in their behavior, which led to improved health outcomes. The mHealth platform also facilitated an increased usage of telemedicine, which in turn led to reduced hospital visits and medical expenses for the patients, according to the study.

Further, the study found that the mHealth was more effective in improving patients’ health outcomes than a web-based version of the same app. The researchers also noted that non-personalized text messages tended to be more effective in changing patients’ behavior than personalized messages, possibly because personalized messages can be viewed as intrusive, coercive, and annoying.

Some of the study’s limitations include focusing on participants with type 2 diabetes which is different from type 1 diabetes or gestational diabetes and is directly tied to dietary or lifestyle self-management.

“Our findings provide important insights on the design of mHealth apps through a better understanding of patients’ health behavior and interactions with the platform,” said study co-author Anindya Ghose, professor of business at NYU’s Stern School of Business, in a press release. “Such knowledge can be very valuable for health care mobile platform designers as well as policymakers to improve the design of smart and connected health infrastructures through sustained usage of the emerging technologies.”

REFERENCE

Diabetes patients’ use of mobile health app found to improve health outcomes, lower medical costs. Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College. https://www.heinz.cmu.edu/media/2021/February/diabetes-patients-use-of-mobile-health-app-found-to-improve-health-outcomes-lower-medical-costs. Published February 25, 2021. Accessed February 26, 2021.