Health care at your fingertips
Over the last three to five years, the use of mobile technology in healthcare — often referred to as mHealth — has grown rapidly.
mHealth encompasses any medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, wearables, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices.
Mobile health services are able to provide programs for chronic conditions, remote monitoring, patient health data, electronic records, e-prescriptions and more.
It’s helping to solve communication, access and clinical data collection challenges.
In 2016, the mobile health market was estimated at some $23 billion worldwide, according to Statista. It’s expected that it will reach nearly $190 billion by 2025, driven by one of the most significant growth levels within the digital health market.
Statista attributes this trend to growing consumer demand for more accessibility to their medical health professionals as transparency in health care becomes more important. In addition, more efficient healthcare expenditures are important to many consumers, with a reduction of health care costs driving the adoption of mHealth applications and services.
One of the major contributors to the growth of mHealth is the ubiquity of smartphones. In the U.S. alone, 81 percent of citizens own a smartphone, reports the Pew Research Center.
According to Statista, mHealth apps are one of the top three funded digital health categories worldwide in 2020 at $1.4 million, surpassed only by telemedicine and data analytics.
Go to any mobile app store and there are tons of health-related apps, many of them free. The most common health-related apps are related to fitness, lifestyle and stress, diet and nutrition.
However, the potential of mobile apps goes beyond the typical fitness app. For instance, the Watch PD, or Watch Parkinson’s Disease, app contributes to research on the disease conducted by the Parkinson Study Group. The app uses features of Apple's HealthKit and CareKit to gather data streams on resting tremor, choreiform dyskinesia, accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer.
These streams are recorded when devices are synced, or a sync activity is initiated on an iPhone.
Another example of innovative mHealth apps is the HemaControl Driver App developed by InVita Healthcare Technologies, a leader in chain of custody software technologies for complex medical environments. According to the company’s press release in September, the app tracks blood products in transit from a blood center to the final destination at the hospital. It uses signature technology to eliminate paper, provide transparency to all parties on product deliveries, and overlays product pickups and deliveries with GPS traffic data to avoid transportation delays and reduce transportation costs, all while following applicable laws and guidelines.
The ubiquity of smartphones is an asset for distributing information, like how to live a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This may have been the inspiration for the World Health Organization when in 2018 it partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch the initiative “Be Healthy Be Mobile,” which uses mobile phones to educate people to make healthier lifestyle choices and help prevent and manage noncommunicable diseases.
The initiative helps countries build an mHealth infrastructure through its handbooks that provide guidance on implementing educational campaigns. Handbooks include guidance for implementing mobile health to combat noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis and tobacco control. The most recent handbook was published earlier this year for dementia.
Since launching the initiative, hundreds of thousands of people in several countries have received information about NCDs.
Smart watches are also becoming more popular. The market has grown and is expected to continue to grow in the near future. Smart watches make access to mHealth apps more convenient. In addition to getting notifications on a smartphone for doctor’s appointments or reminders to take medications, for example, one would receive the same notification on their watch and be able navigate mHealth apps without reaching into their pocket. Sensors that monitor heart rate, breathing and more are becoming increasingly accurate and reliable.
mHealth is more than just mobile apps, smartphones and devices, however. It’s a key component of Digital Health, which includes telemedicine, electronic health records, digital medical billing, and so on. All these components of technology work together so that patients can enjoy personalized treatments, remote consultations with specialists, timely access to health services, easier access to digital health records and others.
In addition to benefits for patients, mobile technology benefits the healthcare professionals themselves and the business side of healthcare. Healthcare professionals use mobile technology to access drug information, the latest medical research and online learning practices. They also use mobile technology for communication and collaboration between doctors, clinics, insurance companies and other entities to become more efficient.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made an impact on the mHealth industry, as it has on so many other industries.
mHealth became an important tool in preventing the spread of the virus, from contact tracing apps like the Guam Covid Alert app to helping distribute information and communicating with loved ones during these difficult times.
While there may have been some hesitancy with using mHealth applications or services, the pandemic has pushed us to adopt them more easily. In the end, safety and not convenience or efficiency was the catalyst.
There continue to be challenges and concerns, such as the privacy of personal information and security of data systems. That’s why it’s important for patients and providers alike to research any application or device before using it. As technology continues to advance, security will evolve to meet any challenges.
Safely applying mobile technology to health care makes perfect sense. It empowers us to take part in our own wellbeing. And that’s what technology should be – empowering.
Jay R. Shedd is executive vice president of Citadel Holdings , the parent company of PTI Pacific Inc. which does business as IT&E, IP&E.