‘The Future of Mobile Healthcare’ IS NOW
Mobile Healthcare, or mHealth, it’s a rising topic of interest, which promises to change the way we manage our health, cut NHS costs and improve the quality of healthcare services. But is mHealth set to last or will it disappear as soon as the excitement around it starts fading?
Here are some thoughts.
Fist of all it’s important to understand the scope of this new trend and identify whether people perceive it positively and as something that will make their lives easier.
Emma Sinden, head of Corporate and Technology at Ruder Finn, explains that the RF’s 2012 mHealthreport discovered that mobile phones, which are the most widespread form of communication in the world (in the UK 51% of the people own one), are providing a real opportunity to revolutionise the healthcare system. Although health and lifestyle apps are currently among the least used (9%), smart-phone and tablet users have expressed their desire for apps that help them manage practical aspects of healthcare such as booking an appointment with their GP (42%), accessing test results (31%) and medical record (30%).
Introducing mobile healthcare is not as easy as it sounds. Patients, or consumers, are not the only cog in the highly regulated healthcare wheel; the government, the NHS staff, app developers and private healthcare providers also play a vital role in determining what shape and direction mobile healthcare is going to take.
The panel speakers attending the event, including Dr Tom Barber, Christopher J. James, Owen Booth and Jon Hoeksma, suggested that in order to get a clearer picture of what mHelath is, it’s important to pay attention to some key areas, such as current trends in app development and usage, R&D, the role of mHealth in service delivery and the obstacles to widespread use of mHealth due to regulations and confidentiality.
It seems that the current trend in app development is that developers create apps and launch them in the marketwithout consultation with GPs and patients; hence, without knowing what is wanted from a health and lifestyleapp.
In light of this, Owen Booth from Diabetes UK states that “social media plays an important role in the development of mHealth” as it facilitates asking users exactly what their expectations are in terms of features, functionality and usability.
So what do people expect from mobile healthcare?
Dr Barber of the University of Warwick / UHCW says that confidentiality is key to the successful adoption of mHealth technologies. As expected, users fear for their privacy when submitting their personal details to the app provider, especially when providing very personal information about their health.
Data management, security and connectivity are also keyelements for the development of mHealth apps. However, these will require an infrastructure and regulations to be put in place as, for instance, smartphones and apps are not currently legally recognised as a medical device.
On the other hand Jon Hoeksma argues that changing mindsets is a bigger issue than infrastructures and that there shouldn’t be the presumption that all patient-healthcare interactions should be face-to-face.
This is could be true, but it leads to the question what services mHealth can and cannot provide.
The panel agreed that for a diagnosis, face-to-face interaction will always be vital. Moreover, people suffering from diseases such asdiabetes are not only physically unwell but often have emotional, psychosocial and social issues that can’t necessarily be addressed by apps.
On the other hand, “for physiological measurements, such blood pressure and insulin levels, the limit of mHealth is currently only technological and it is only a matter of time before our mobile devices will be able to generate such measurements”, says Professor James.
However, it is not just about the app and technology but also about people, as apps require patients to input their own data. Long-term conditions tend to appear in older patients who are usually not as familiar with new technologies and could struggle to enter their own data. Hence, minimal user input, icons and the engagement of relatives will be paramount for the adoption of mHealth by elderly patients. Furthermore, “you can have the best app in the world but you need NHS admin to support it if you want it to work”, says Dr Barber. The NHS is a huge and highly regulated organisation; therefore the adoption of mHealth could become very difficult and slow without strong input from the government.
The government has appeared to be slightly reluctant in investment and support so far. However, this isn’t because it’s against mHealth, but rather because it was waiting to create the perfect conditions for it to happen, say Professor James and Jon Hoeksma. The aging population is placing ever increasing pressure on the healthcare system and mHealth represents a chance for the government to give people more responsibility for managing their own health. For this reason all the speakers agree that 2013 will be a big year for mHealth as the government is keen for this channel to grow.
Now that all the elements are coming together what will be the next step for mHealth?
The feeling is that there isn’t only one path to go down but rather several approaches that should be taken to ensure the growth of mHelth.
First of all, developing an app can be as cheap as £30k. Hence, it’s important to keep launching new mHelath apps in order to get useful feedback and push technological development.
Also, collaborative events like ‘The future of mHealth’ are vital as they allow different parts of the mHelath ecosystem to commutate and establish new agreements.
Lastly and most importantly, mHealth needs the main stakeholders such as the NHS, pharma companies and private healthcare providers to invest in a big money project that bring together its many elements. This will establish a first framework for mHealth and will pave the way for the improvement of new infrastructures and technologies as well as the creation of a new mobile healthcare regulatory paradigm.
It seems like there is a tremendous potential for innovation and creative ideas regarding not only mobile devises but also other channels of upcoming technologies such as smart TVs. Cameras and movement sensors could revolutionise the interaction between patients and GPs, as well as help preparing A&E and surgeons for those patients being brought in by paramedics.
The challenges are many but the expectations are high and, although we are still in a beta-testing phase, there is a strong feeling that mHealth is here to stay and change the status quo. So, what would you like to do to take control of you own health?
For further information on ‘The Future of Mobile Healthcare’ check out the tweets from the event (using #RFmHealth) and the 2012 RF| mHealth presentation.