High copays and busy schedules make visiting medical professionals a difficult endeavor for most people. Individuals with chronic illness know this all too well, and mobile applications have been touted as one way to connect these patients with healthcare experts.
Preliminary research suggests coaching patients on how to become more engaged in managing their health can both improve health outcomes and reduce inappropriate health care utilization. Mobile apps allow for this type of engagement on a more consistent basis.
Welkin provides a smartphone app as a part of its case management platform. Using the Welkin platform, any member of the care team can seamlessly work with patients to provide on-going support and education to their patients. Through frequent communication empowered by the app the patient and provider quickly form a bond that often transcends the usual patient-provider dynamic.
Penny Mach, a Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietician who specializes in diabetes, has used Welkin and noted that the technology allows for her to check in with her patients regardless of her location.
“It’s a different way for me to approach patient education,” said Mach. “I can really connect with my patients when they are uploading what they are eating, or what their blood sugar readings are.”
The Welkin system allows her to “catch them in everyday life.” The app provides care organizations with the means to interact with their patient population on a more consistent basis. The patients – who often become more than just a “patient” – take pictures of their meals and blood glucose readings and send them to Mach. After examining their photos, she can determine whether they are eating too many carbs, or not enough of a certain food group, and educate them on how the choices they’re making will affect their blood glucose levels.
Welkin is modern case management for the healthcare industry: patients can now make an immediate connection to their health behaviors and receive feedback quickly. They no longer have to wait weeks or months to receive an answer or guidance. Mach cited this frequent engagement as a much more efficient method for both parties, as it eliminates commuting, wait times, and allows each person to be flexible and remote.
“It’s better to have frequent collaboration versus one, hour-long assessment every three months,” said Mach. “The app allows for little bits of coaching more frequently.”
It’s akin to studying for a test – you don’t want to be cramming everything into one session. If patients are able to spread it out and take in small bits of guidance on a daily basis, it’s more likely to have a lasting impact.
Sara Born, also aCertified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian, is able to work with Welkin on a part-time basis. The flexibility of the app allows her to work with 5-8 patients, many of whom she has worked with for quite some time. This constancy led to her developing surprisingly strong relationships with her patients.
“I would have never thought that you’d make such a connection [with the patient] through the internet,” said Born.
The patient interactions tend to develop to a point where the communication becomes less formal, allowing for a more natural – and more productive – dialogue. In addition to the personal touch that’s derived from such constant contact, Born noted that “you can also change the focus frequently.” Whereas a patient may not cover all of the bases during an in-person appointment, and neglect one important area of concern that may pop up following the meeting, the app provides them with a chance to address issues as they arise.
Diabetes management is a constantly shifting target for patients. Blood sugar levels and dietary habits aren’t static, so it doesn’t make sense to use a treatment methodology that’s averse to change. In 2015, consumers – and in this case patients – are used to leading the conversation and working according to their own schedules. Welkin’s patient-centered approach provides individuals with the tools and resources they need to succeed. Case managers provide guidance and patients receive medical and social support through the application.
“It’s kind of like a game of tennis,” said (Penny) Mach. “They hit the ball, you return the ball.”