What is Mobile Health Technology?

Mobile health technology is all around us. Have you seen it? For those of you who have, we will explore the challenges and opportunities that we face with mobile health technology. For those of you who haven’t imagine the following scenarios.

A cardiologist pauses outside of a patient’s room, pulls her smartphone from her coat pocket and reviews the patient’s chart before entering the room.

A mom receives a text message reminding her of her son’s upcoming well-child visit. She confirms his appointment and asks her smartphone to remind her one hour before her son’s appointment.

During discharge planning, a physical therapist helps an 85-year-old patient recovering from a fall program his FitBit so it will remind him to get up and move at regular intervals throughout the day.

A fifteen-year-old patient with diabetes uses an app on her smartphone to enter her glucose readings, earning points for readings within the desired range. She uses the same app to play games that reinforce ways she can help manage her diabetes with her diet.

A new dad emails a picture of a worrisome rash to his daughter’s pediatrician to determine if she needs to be seen in the office or if the rash can be treated with over-the-counter medication. The dad is then able to speak with his doctor from the comfort of his own home using telemedicine.

What do all of these scenarios have in common? They all describe real-world applications of mobile health technology, also known as “mHealth.”

The World Health Organization defines mHealth as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices.” Mobile devices include smartphones and tablets, as well as devices that provide real-time patient monitoring like FitBits and other wearables.

How popular is Mobile Health, and is it here to stay?

We saw a proliferation of online patient portals with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Electronic Health Record Incentive Program, commonly referred to as “Meaningful Use.” However, clinicians, health policymakers and others invested in boosting patient engagement are realizing that patients are more likely to use tools on their smartphones over less accessible patient portals.

In their recent report on the latest trends in telemedicine, Forbes estimated that 65 percent of interactions with healthcare facilities will occur with mobile devices in 2018.

In short, mHealth is likely here to stay. Hospitals and health systems are continuing to explore innovative ways they might use mHealth to further engage patients, improve patient health outcomes and patient satisfaction, and even reduce costs.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, physicians are working with designers to turn a successful web-based coping program for children with serious illnesses into an app that looks like an Instagram feed and includes gaming and animation, something with which their target audience is very familiar. They hope to pilot the app in late summer 2018.

Innovators in the mHealth space are also considering how the increasing number of devices people have in their homes, Amazon’s Alexa or other voice-activated in-home assistants could do more than just add items to a grocery list or order diapers.

Boston Children’s Hospital recently created an app with Alexa in mind, KidsMD, that allows users to ask general health and wellness and medication dosing questions.

Challenges with Mobile Health

As new applications of mHealth are discovered and existing applications are improved, patients are being given even more insight into and power over their own health and healthcare. And while that’s exciting, there are also challenges facing  those looking to get in the mHealth game.

One of the primary concerns with mHealth is the protection of patient privacy. Practices and health systems that use mHealth to transmit patient information must ensure patient information is protected in accordance with HIPAA regulations.

Another challenge is determining how mobile and other health technologies, like electronic medical records, can and should communicate with each other—the challenge of interoperability.

With an increasing number of companies trying to get a foothold in the mHealth market, it’s also a challenge for practices and health systems to determine which mHealth apps are the most effective and will best meet the needs of their patients and providers.

Ultimately, mHealth’s potential is just beginning to be tapped. It’s something to watch and something that really has the power to transform the way healthcare is delivered.



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