With the explosive penetration of smartphones and smart devices, healthcare has become one of the many sectors that are going through a significant digital transformation, a fact made evident by the popularity and acceptance of mHealth apps and devices. Mobile phones now function as full-fledged computers that provide a range of features and services — and mHealth is making steady progress as the technology simplifies healthcare for all.
The utility of mHealth apps and tech can be found the world over, and their impact has affected the global mHealth market, which is touted to surpass a remuneration of $289 billion by 2025.
One such success story centers on a postoperative education mHealth tool designed to provide the answers to parent or guardian caregivers who are attending to pediatric patients. The mHealth tool offers solutions and information about common post-tonsillectomy care, saving parents the trouble of having to go through written materials or making a late-night phone call to the doctor. Only seven of the 64 families given access to the app called the clinic with postoperative questions. In total, 68 percent of families used the app, and 86 percent said they would prefer to use the app in future rather than make a phone call with questions about patient care.
The proliferation of this kind of mHealth technology is being led by healthcare-focused companies that are working to enhance their offerings.
For example, Solera Health, an Arizona-based integrated health network, announced that it will partner with Fitbit to launch a connected health platform to encourage care management through behavior change and positive reinforcement. Solera launched the Diabetes Prevention Program in 2017, finding that members who wore a Fitbit device lost more weight than other participants.
Fitbit, one of the leaders in the digital health field, has tried to bridge the divide between consumer-centered devices and platforms preferred by healthcare providers. Fitbit Care, a connected health coaching and support platform designed for providers, consumers and businesses, has shown promise in diabetes prevention among people with poor health profiles that can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 84 million U.S. adults fall into this category, with chances of developing a chronic disease that affects more than 30 million adults in the country and racks up about $327 billion in annual healthcare costs.
Noting the effectiveness of mHealth platforms in healthcare, the University of Virginia Health System recently announced the launch and expansion of six telehealth and mHealth programs designed to improve chronic disease care management and coordination. The new programs build on a trend of developing remote patient monitoring platforms to keep track of patients at home. The health system’s efforts have resulted in a $750,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health.
Major healthcare devices manufacturers have also come to be a part of the mHealth ecosystem, especially in light of recent clearances from regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For instance, the FDA recently cleared an mHealth platform that uses virtual reality technology to detect a concussion and improve care management in the aftermath of one. The EYE-SYNC consists of an infrared camera-equipped VR headset and a tablet featuring an mHealth app. The system helps clinicians evaluate visual impairments, supervise recovery and support the rehabilitation of ocular-vestibular and ocular-motor deficits.
The FDA’s blessing and further clarity about which category of federal oversight such products will fall into have reassured manufacturers who want to strengthen their position in mHealth sector.
The upsurge in the power of modern smartphones has also allowed for the development of quality video apps. Networks are rolling out the latest high-speed cellular towers, bringing 4G connectivity to many markets and 5G to some. The combination of high-speed processors and networks is expected to drastically improve the performance of mHealth. As manufacturers continue to upgrade interfaces to suit consumers, app usability is slated to increase. Though the mobile modality is relatively young, it has been observed to be maturing with each product release.
With more manufacturers and smaller developers entering the arena of mHealth, along with large and well-known developers already making substantial investments in the field, the price of mHealth devices and applications will continue to drop. As such, mHealth could lure people toward more expensive services, with the profit from enterprise systems and other services offsetting the cost of free mobile applications. At the same time, startups are expected to deliver groundbreaking mHealth technologies that could serve individual consumers, thus continuing a push toward the commoditization of healthcare.
Prestigious institutions like the American Medical Association (AMA) have come to acknowledge the role of mHealth devices and apps in the promotion of safe and effective patient care. In 2016, at an AMA interim meeting, physicians signed a list of principles to guide coverage and payment policies, in a vote to support the use of accurate, effective, safe and secure mHealth apps and associated devices.
While the AMA policy acknowledges the need to expand the evidence base necessary to show the efficacy of mHealth, research in the U.S. has come to suggest that mHealth devices can be instrumental in supporting hospitals, especially in the rural areas. Connected health technologies that enable smaller hospitals to collaborate with larger health systems can essentially reduce expenses, while services that are more billable can be kept local, thus alleviating the financial woes of smaller hospitals. With the reach of mHealth technologies spreading further, it is expected to become one of the most game-changing aspects in the current healthcare scenario.
Shikha Sinha is an active contributor on digital media outlets where she majorly reports, deciphers, and analyzes the impact of the technology realm on today’s businesses. She holds a bachelor of technology degree in electrical and electronics engineering.
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