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Corporate Wellness: Utilizing Smartphones for Chronic Disease Management

Pamela Swingley

A smiling man using a smartphone with his friends in the background.

In a perfect world, none of us would have to take any medications. Our meals would consist mostly of fruits, vegetables and grains. We would exercise daily, sleep eight hours a night, meditate and avoid stress. A few employees do consistently practice healthy behaviors. These employees are the ones that usually take full advantage of corporate wellness programs. But, the majority of employees would rather take a pill than change their lifestyle, even if it means managing a chronic disease for the rest of their lives.  Americans are taking more medications than ever before. In fact, 81 percent of adults in the U.S. take at least one medication during a given week, and 27 percent take at least five medications. However, while we may be taking more medications, we frequently fail to take them as prescribed. Smartphones hold the key to helping improve drug adherence.

Taking medications correctly is a challenge for people of all ages, with all types of conditions. It may be Greg in accounting with high blood pressure, or Nancy that has diabetes or Eileen who is nearing retirement. It may also be an employee’s family member who struggles to manage their medications. The fact is, many of us simply forget to take our pills, stop taking them because we feel better, forget to reorder or can’t afford them.

The cost of poor compliance is astronomical. Estimates of the total annual healthcare costs in the U.S. resulting from patient noncompliance vary from $177 billion to $300 billion. Unfortunately, many of these costs are passed on to employers who must manage escalating health insurance premiums.

Smartphones Hold the Secret to Healthier Employees

Medication compliance is not a new issue, nor is it one that is easily solved. One of the challenges in improving compliance has been a lack of solutions that address the complexity of chronic disease management. To be effective, solutions must fit seamlessly with the patient’s lifestyle.

Enter the smartphone. Since the introduction of the Apple iPhone in June, 2007, smartphone adoption rates have exploded.  These phones are quickly changing the way we manage relationships, pay our bills, get the latest news, and manage our health.

The smartphone is the perfect device to provide daily support between medical appointments. The most logical point to start is with medication reminders. Studies show that electronic reminders reduce healthcare costs. In 2003, in a Division of Medical Services report by the State of Missouri, it found the average monthly Medicaid Costs for Diabetic patients with reminders was $949 compared to $1,233 without reminders.

Reminders to take the right medication, at the right time, in the right dose are just the beginning. The next generation of health management services now on the market incorporates comprehensive tools to help employees manage their health. These solutions take a holistic approach, consolidating patient information to provide feedback that supports behavior changes.

Features of these health 2.0 solutions include medication and event reminders, compliance reporting, goal and bio-metrics tracking, health charts, account sharing across a health team, as well as a personal health record and vault to store documents.

Through their smartphones, employees not only receive medication reminders, but can monitor their blood glucose levels, record their weight, report health events, receive disease-specific wellness tips, participate in exercise challenges and have their personal health record in the palm of their hand.

Questions to Ask When Selecting a Chronic Disease Management Service

When it comes to selecting a chronic disease management service to offer employees, you want to consider flexibility, security, support, accessibility, employee friendliness and cost.

How flexible is it?

Flexibility is an essential feature because everyone has a unique medication schedule. The service should be able to support all different types of medications like oral, patch, injection, supplements and more. It should also support medications taken at different times, changes in the time zone, and the ability to add special instructions such as how to take it, where it’s stored and more.

Does the service take security seriously? This is a crucial feature to evaluate when dealing with employee health information. The service should offer password protection, care communities with different administration and privilege levels controlled by the main user, tier 1 data hosting, audit trails, inactivity time-out and HTTPS transmissions. These steps indicate a company is invested in protecting your employees’ health information.

What type of support is available? No matter how simple a service, at some point everyone will have a question. Whether help is online, by phone, or by email, make sure it’s easy to find an answer. If secured account sharing is available for tricky support questions, even better. Don’t forget to ask about support for your HR department as well. Vendors that offer employee training and marketing programs to encourage adoption will increase your return on investment.

What platforms does it work on? Another factor to consider is the accessibility of the service. Whether it’s a text messaging service or a smartphone application, the service needs to work with the phones that the majority of your employees use. A medication reminder service offered for iPhones only has a limited market potential. The service should be available from any browser “in the cloud” to support employees at home, at work or on the go.

What functionality is included?

While thousands of individual smartphone apps exist to remind employees to take pills, track exercise, count calories, monitor goals, motivate, educate and more, most apps are only used a few times. When it comes to making lasting changes it helps to use a service that consolidates information all in one place. This provides a holistic view of the patient’s health and only requires one download, one password and one system to learn.

Is it Employee-Centric?

Offering a wellness service to manage chronic diseases is great, but be sure it is a service that employees will voluntarily use. It should be designed from the employee’s point of view to be easy to use. They should be portable so that if they change jobs, they can take their medical history with them and keep health information confidential from employers and health plans. Enabling as opt-in or out of services and choosing what information they share, and who they share it with should be considered.

How Much Does It Cost?

While some large employers have invested millions in personal health records or wellness solutions for their employees, chronic disease management services do not have to be expensive. In fact, most of us have become accustomed to using free services that rely on advertising or sponsorship. For example, Google, Facebook, Mint, WebMD, TripAdvisor and LinkedIn. Following this model, vendors are able to offer innovative chronic disease management services at no charge to employers or employees.

About The Author

Pamela Swingley is CEO & Founder of RememberItNow!, a company privately held and headquartered in Orinda, CA.   She designed RememberItNow! to help her and millions of others who have chronic diseases, take control of their health. RememberItNow! is available through leading benefit brokers as a free value added benefit. Contact RememberItNow! directly at benefits.rememberitnow.com. If you are a benefit broker, apply to become our partner with your own co-branded RememberItNow! http://www.rememberitnow.com/dar-signup.php.

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