Mobile physician monitoring, cash payments improve patient lifestyles

May 31, 2012
Rachael Zimlich, RN, BSN

Ms Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.

Are you tired of unsuccessfully trying to improve your patients' lifestyles? A new study shows that money--and something else you might not have considered yet--do the trick.

A three-pronged strategy using mobile communications, remote coaching, and financial incentives has proven successful in helping inactive adults who eat too much fat and not enough fruits and vegetables live more healthful lifestyles, according to a new study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The study, published in the May 28 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, was led by Bonnie Spring, PhD, and involved 204 adult patients with elevated intakes of saturated fat, low intakes of fruits and vegetables, high sedentary leisure time, and low physical activity. The goal was to get those patients to increase fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity and to decrease fat and sedentary leisure. Patients were issued digital devices to record and self-regulate their behavior.

During a 3-week period, patients uploaded their data daily to the devices and communicated remotely by phone or email with paraprofessional coaches. Participants could earn up to $175 for meeting the goals set for them during the treatment phase and $30 to $80 more for continuing to record and transmit data during a 20-week follow-up period.

Any gains achieved by participants over the course of the study diminished once treatment ended, the study notes, but improvements continued during the follow-up period. Overall, participants more than doubled their usual intake of fruits and vegetables during the study, decreased consumption of saturated fats, and upped their exercise time.

“This study demonstrates the feasibility of changing multiple unhealthy diet and activity behaviors simultaneously, efficiently, and with minimal face-to-face contact by using mobile technology, remote coaching, and incentives,” the study’s authors say.

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