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Aditi Nerurkar, MD Headshot

From iOS to OM: When High Tech Meets High Touch

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A few weeks ago, ABC News gathered together a group of yogis, meditators and researchers for a Twitter chat on yoga and meditation. Tweeting away were Dr. Josephine Briggs (head of NCCAM), Senator Tim Ryan (proponent of mindfulness in government), and experts from medical institutions nationwide (Harvard, Mayo, and UCSF, to name a few). As we sat around the modern-day campfire that is Twitter, we swapped ideas and shared nuggets of wisdom and data. I was struck by the irony of that moment. Ancient modalities spoken through modern sound bytes. Technology was blurring the once-distinct boundary between holistic and futuristic.

The digital age has made its way into every industry, and integrative medicine is no exception. With its burgeoning cadre of smartphone apps for meditation and yoga, the mHealth movement in integrative medicine stands firmly at the crossroads where high-tech meets high touch. And for those of us who prescribe wellness, this could be a welcome addition to our doctor's bag of tricks.

One of the greatest challenges of promoting healthy living is behavior change. The gap between knowledge and practice is vast. For most of us, when it comes to stress, exercise, or nutrition...um, well, but [insert your personal explanation here]. It is these ums, wells and buts that the mHealth movement aims to tackle. Through user engagement, apps are making getting healthy almost...fun. In high-brow research terms, this is called the gamification of health behavior. And early studies suggest some promise in motivating behavior change.

Harnessing patient motivation is a big theme in health care right now, with health coaching and motivational interviewing being the buzzwords du jour. So your smartphone, never more than an arm's length away, might be a powerful health motivator. The mHealth movement hopes to leverage this sense of personalized proximity to change health behavior.

But can the innovative spirit of mHealth fully integrate into a conventional medical system mired in its molasses-slow protocols? Will mHealth be able to partner with doctors, a group traditionally thought of as risk-averse, slow-adopters? And can it help patients become more intentional and thoughtful in their daily behaviors, ultimately changing health outcomes?

Big questions, many answers. (Wish there was an app for that.)

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