Pick up the phone – chances are, it’s a smart one.
Some 35 percent of all Americans own a smartphone and one-quarter of all those who own these mobile communication devices, use them to browse the Internet for the purposes of making smart purchase decisions, regardless of the type of item being bought.
Some 175 million Americans tapped into these sleek, fashionable phones last year to find some of the best medication bargains on the market today, from the convenience of their homes or while at work or play – long after they leave the doctor’s office.
Imagine researching drug prices, refilling prescriptions, checking the order status, or finding the nearest locations to pick up medications from the palm of a hand.
Today, smartphones are revolutionizing the way health care decisions are made and there is no better time than the present. New reports show that employers are coughing up 12 percent of their total spending for health benefits, hurting their businesses where they are most vulnerable – in the wallet. With this as a backdrop, astute employers already know they have been asked to shoulder the bulk of increased healthcare costs, with the average cost of employee family health insurance being nine percent higher than last year’s average of $13,770. While the employee’s share of total cost rose a little more than three percent, the contributions made by their boss 12 percent, averaging around$10,944.
With the growing focus on healthcare cost-reduction, any tool that can promote efficiency is considered a win for the industry. More employers are pointing to what the tech-savvy, and even the curious novice, has already begun to understand: mobile communications technology in the form of smartphones. Mobile communications are a natural extension of employee benefit plans, with pull-through options that encourage workers and their dependents to participate in preventative health and wellness practices. It’s a phenomenon that is not only beginning to catch on – it’s taking hold. It is predicted that by 2015, iPhones, BlackBerries, and Androids will dominate the mobile market and offer the best business opportunities in terms of mobile healthcare management.
Smartphones: It’s a No-Brainer
New reports show that six in 10 doctors in the Unites States have smartphones and most of them use their devices for emailing and accessing the Internet. What’s more is, about 80 percent of all doctors are predicted to own a smartphone by 2012.
Smartphone apps already allow health professionals the ability to deliver the most up-to-date medical resources. For example, the enablement of remote monitoring of high-risk patients, providing for interactive communication eliminates the need for unnecessary doctor’s office visits or trips to emergency room
In today’s mobile world, virtually no one leaves home without a smartphone – and for good reason. With the subject of healthcare becoming one of the most talked-about issues, smartphones open windows to retrieve and disburse online healthcare information at a moment’s notice. Here’s proof: searching for health information online is the third most common Internet activity, behind checking email and accessing a search engine.
The Golden Age of smartphones has arrived – they have become relevant and useful, going far beyond the traditional phone call to provide information and entertainment. In a short period of time, smartphones have taken on significant meaning for all populations, but especially for young adults who have always trusted their value. Without consulting Mom and Dad, young adults up to age 26 (who are probably covered under their parents’ plan) are primed for opportunities to touch an app and gain pertinent and valuable real-time information, relating to the quality of their healthcare.
Healthy Choices, Healthy Changes
It should not come as a surprise that some of the largest health care providers are creating apps for employer health plans that encourage healthy behavioral changes and savvy savings techniques that engage and reward participating employees.
To keep these employees at the top of their game, companies are buying in, taking advantage of mobile technologies to eliminate any confusion and uncertainty on the part of employees and their families, all of whom are affected by healthcare reform. Smartphones are already demonstrating their potential as a critical platform for the deliverance of timely and proactive communications online to employees, regarding their health plans. These initiatives are going a long way to help alleviate any fears associated with healthcare reform and educate workers about upcoming changes to their health plan.
There’s even more! Employers can now deliver wellness information online to targeted members– everything from healthful diets and recipes to information on healthcare reform and specific medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy. Employees can digest and share this information at their own pace, all in the name of reduced premiums, less absenteeism, increased adherence, greater worker productivity, and improved overall health.
Smartphone applications can be developed for many processes, including health data management and personal recordkeeping. Some smartphone providers offer as many as 2,000 apps to help monitor and support wellness practices such as measuring heart rates, providing drug references, recording symptoms, planning exercise schedules, and managing diabetes. Several apps have the functionality to display savings earned or gained, as well as process account balances or figure out if a co-pay is due.
Companies can also turn to Smartphone applications to help them target employees who have trouble managing their chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, in order to better control their health assessments and eliminate frequent hospitalizations or trips to the emergency room.
In turn, mobile apps can serve as reminders for patients, prompting them when it’s time to take their medications and when it’s time to order refills This is an important feature of mobile healthcare applications for increasing compliance and adherence. After all, studies suggest that improved adherence by way of reduced hospital admissions, emergency room and doctor visits, laboratory tests, and additional therapy could account for some $258.3 billion in potential hospital cost savings nationwide. A good portion of these reductions would benefit the chronically ill, or those that carry the heaviest burden for medication spending.
Employees with disability-related illness or injury, or who are living with a chronic health condition, also consume one of the highest percentages of benefits in the overall employer-sponsored plan. This further highlights the importance of managing communications related to these conditions, and amplifies the need for making patients more receptive to health and wellness information.
Pick Up the Phone: Got an ‘App?’
There seems to be a medical app for just about everything and everybody these days. Mobile applications are being designed to accommodate accessibility, while greatly improving the safety of those adhering to routine medication regimes by combining drug claims and OTC drug information into one well-organized, managed list of medications – from birth control pills to vitamins and supplements.
That’s good news for working moms, who are often referred to in the medical community as a family’s Chief Health Officer. They, too, are increasingly using smartphones to manage and track their family’s health information. It is reported that one in three moms use their smartphones for healthcare purposes, compared to 22 percent of the general population.
The message that Smartphone applications are sending to employers is loud and clear: providing employees with convenient and easily accessible health information from a user-friendly hand-held device, from anywhere and at anytime, makes both dollars and sense. While smartphones may have once been considered a disruptive annoyance or a contributing factor to decreased worker productivity, smartphones can now dramatically influencing informed decision-making about medications and healthcare services, that resulting in savings for both employees and employers.
As healthcare costs continue to rise, with annual premiums for a family of four now equivalent to the price of a new car, the challenge for all stakeholders will be to integrate this information into successful strategies for reducing both employer and employee costs, when a weakened economy needs it most. Once accomplished, providers, insurers, patients, and employers can embrace a healthcare innovation that is just too good to ignore – by simply picking up the phone. Chances are it’s a smart one.
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