4 Ways Smartphones Improve Patient Engagement, Activation

Providers must make use of technology that increases patient engagement through smartphones.

Most Americans use smartphones not only as a way to communicate with others, but to conveniently manage their day-to-day personal and professional lives in the palm of their hand. For healthcare, that means smartphones hold a lot of power for supporting patient engagement.

Providers recognize widespread smart phone usage as an opportunity to increase patient engagement, which in turn may improve patient outcomes. Increasingly, patients are able to use the convenience of their smart phone to accomplish health goals and become more engaged in their care.

Patient activation, a measure of an individual’s understanding of their care and ability to participate in care decisions, also improves through various smartphone technologies used by providers.

Below, PatientEngagementHIT.com outlines four specific ways smartphones are improving patient engagement and activation.

Mobile-optimized patient portals

Patient engagement technology has long been dominated by patient portals, secure websites that allow patients to access their health data, pay bills, refill prescriptions, schedule appointments, and generally become more involved in their health care.

Patient portals were originally optimized for PC interfaces, but recently, vendors are creating more mobile-optimized portals. This shift has enhanced use of patient portals by giving patients access to convenient, on-the-go tools that help them manage their health care.

In a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com, Amar Shah, MD, said that mobilizing the patient portal significantly improved patient engagement and activation rates at the family practice he owns.

“Getting notifications directly on their phone kept the patients more engaged and kept them really logging into the app to see what messages we were sending out to them and what updates we were giving them,” said Shah.

“The app has been another way we’ve been able to engage with patients who’ve been behind on healthcare preventative services,” Shah continued. “That’s shown to be truly beneficial in closing a lot of care gaps.”

EHR vendors and hospitals can purchase software to provide patients with the option to download their patient portal onto a centralized mobile health record, such as Apple Health Records for iOS devices and CommonHealth for Android devices.

However, a 2019 JAMA Network Open study showed that few patients were downloading their medical records to their smartphones from Apple Health Records. This is largely because convenient access to EHR data has not been of particular use for many patients, except for some who are hyper-engaged in their care or change providers frequently.

The true potential for patient data access lies in how patients can use the data in other applications, said JP Pollak, co-founder and chief architect at the Commons Project, which built the CommonHealth app.

“From my perspective, the biggest value for these kinds of platforms and for good patient access to data is coming,” he explained. “In fact, it's mostly related to what apps and services can be built on top of those data, not necessarily the personal health record themselves.”


Telehealth, which has recently experienced a steep increase in use due to COVID-19, can boost patient engagement by way of smartphones.

Nearly 75 percent of patients accessed their first-ever telehealth visit during the first wave of COVID-19, and most reported high patient satisfaction based on a survey of 1,000 patients conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Kyruus.

While telehealth has been used for the first time by many to safely receive care during COVID-19, patients say they want to continue using the service even after the pandemic ends.

Fifty percent of patients surveyed said they would be willing to switch providers if it meant they could continue using telehealth on a regular basis.

To go even further, patients are willing to pay for telehealth, with 21 percent saying they would access telehealth on a limited basis if their insurance did not cover it.

Chronic disease self-management app

Chronic disease self-management apps designed for smartphone use have increased patient engagement, allowing easy access to data, medication schedules, and calendars.

For example, Walgreens partnered with remote patient monitoring providers Dexcom and Propeller Health to help patients better engage in their own chronic care management.

Patients can plug data from their remote monitoring devices into the Walgreens’ Find Care app, which provides them with a centralized location to inform their chronic disease self-management. Additionally, entering in data gives the tool more information to inform potential chronic care supports for the patient.

For instance, information collected from a blood glucose wearable allows the patient to take action on an impending high or low before the situation becomes dire. With patient permission, clinicians can also be notified of symptom irregularities, allowing them to intervene when necessary.

Another chronic disease management tool designed for smartphone use is the Family Caregiver app from Geisinger and Merck which was launched in 2018 to improve patient medication adherence and care coordination.

The app allows patients and caregivers to manage their calendar of health-related tasks such as medication schedules and upcoming appointments. Additionally, the tool allows for two-way communication between providers and patients or caregivers.

Patient outreach, text message outreach

Health IT that helps connect patients with their practices through text messaging has benefitted providers and patients by leading to fewer missed appointments.

Grunberger Diabetes Institute (GDI) uses Solutionreach, a text message based technology that has resulted in better patient engagement.

“We really had a high number of no-shows and we had no way of tracking that,” explained the practice’s office manager Lynne Frazier, in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.

“The EHR we were using only would send e-mails to our patients, but not everybody checks their e-mails on a continual basis, so patients were missing them or they would check it after the appointment actually occurred,” Frazier continued.

When patients received appointment reminders and nudges to schedule doctor’s visits through text messaging, Frazier saw sizable improvement in patient retention. No-show rates decreased by 66 percent and Frazier was able to reschedule cancelled appointments for 675 patients.

When it is all said and done, providers have a real opportunity to increase patient engagement by using technology, especially when that technology is easily accessible on a patient’s smart phone.

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