Veterans say appointment reminders are most useful feature in health app study

By Aditi Pai

mCareMore than half of providers that used mCare, a secure messaging app for soldiers, saw an improvement in health appointment attendance and 85 percent would recommend that their patients use the app, according to a study, published in Telemedicine and e-health, that looked at the effects of mCare on 497 veterans.

All soldiers who participated in the program were part of a U.S. Army Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit (CBWTU), which provides support to wounded, ill and injured soldiers who require at least six months of rehab and complicated health management. These units are in five locations: Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, Virginia, and Alabama.

mCare was powered by Diversinet until the company was acquired by IMS Health subsidiaries in August 2013.

mCare, which works on iOS, Android, Microsoft, and Backberry phones, sends patients wellness tips, announcements, appointment reminders and messages from care teams. During the study, patients' CBWTU care teams could access the app through an online portal and send messages or schedule messages for a later date. After managing messages, care teams had the option to send a series of questionnaires to the soldier to keep track of his or her mood and adherence to the care regimen. Responses were recorded and included in a graph that showed growth over time.

Although the pilot began in May 2009, researchers didn't add the appointment tracking feature until January 2010. The pilot program ended in April 2011.

Those who chose to receive appointment reminders received alerts 24 hours and 90 minutes before each clinical appointment. This accounted for 43 percent of all message activity. Another 47 percent of message activity was the customizable health and wellness tips. Ten percent of messages were military announcements.

Over the course of the study, mCare provided 150,742 secure messages to patients who were as far as 600 miles from their local CBWTU office. Patients remained in the program for an average of 48 weeks.

After adding the appointment tracking feature, over 9,000 appointments were made through mCare, and soldiers initiated around one third of those through their phones. Resarchers received user feedback surveys from 90 of the participants. According to these surveys, 85 percent of respondents found the appointment reminders to be the most helpful feature. A poll of 75 case management teams showed that 50 percent of care teams saw an improvement in appointment attendance among their patients who used mCare.

Around 70 percent of the participants used the app routinely up to six months after downloading it, which, according to the study, surpasses previous reports that study patients' app retention. Additionally, 70 percent of soldiers used mCare multiple times per week, and 78 percent said mCare improved their CBWTU experience.

In 2010, Colonel Ronald Poropatich, deputy director of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center U.S. Army Medical Research provided early statistics from the study at a House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee hearing. At the time, he reported that 84 percent of the mCare patient participants are enlisted service members and 16 percent are officers. He also said more than 90 percent of the volunteer users surveyed found the mCare application on their phone easy to use or somewhat easy to use, nearly 75 percent of the users surveyed preferred to receive contact through mCare more than once a week, and 65 percent reported that mCare improved their communications with their unit.

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