mHealth Expected to Accelerate

Despite the ubiquity of mobile devices such as smartphones and computer tablets, healthcare has barely tapped the potential of mobile health, or mHealth. In fact, only 11% of consumers with cellphones and 19% of those with smartphones utilized mHealth applications in 2012 – even though such apps are widely available, according to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey. 

Of the apps being used, about 80% were related to fitness, wellness or weight loss. Mobile applications for monitoring chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension were much less commonly utilized. Evidently patients don't want to adopt these apps until their providers engage with them and start viewing and responding to data. 

Indeed, more widespread adoption of mobile health applications could occur when healthcare organizations actually jump into the mix and start using mHealth to engage their patients in better health management, according to a report from Chilmark Research, Cambridge, Mass.

The market for mHealth initiatives that enable caregivers to better engage with consumers to drive great usage is expected to pick up the pace in 2014. This is when CMS begins basing quality payments on a competitive scale. The advantage for these payments will go to provider groups that have already starting internal testing of first line innovations such as two-way patient messaging services, the report states. 

Many in the industry have failed to recognize that mHealth is not just about mobile communications in healthcare; it's also about connecting providers, patients and caregivers so that the right information can be delivered at the right time in the right place. 

To create this connectivity and accelerate mHealth adoption, a number of organizations, including technology vendors and healthcare providers, are developing cloud-based platforms to connect data from mHealth apps with provider systems, including electronic health records (EHRs). Once these systems are connected to mobile applications, mHealth data can become a valuable and trusted information source for providers to keep patients healthy or stable. 

For example, the AT&T mHealth Platform enables healthcare organizations to store, manage, and transfer health and wellness data across multiple sources including applications, devices, and health-centric IT systems through the use of a highly secure environment. This cloud-based platform offers application program interfaces (APIs) and a software developer kit (SDK) that enables approved software developers and manufacturers of connected devices to link to the platform and share patient data in a structured, authorized and highly secure manner. 

However, the capabilities of the AT&T mHealth Platform go far beyond app development. The solution is also designed to facilitate collaboration between providers and patients and between clinicians caring for the same patients. It can be used for remote patient monitoring, telehealth, secure messaging through portals, and secure texting. And if a healthcare system uses AT&T Healthcare Community Online as its health information exchange and care collaboration hub, that organization can integrate information through the mHealth platform. 

In addition, a healthcare enterprise can integrate its legacy systems with the mHealth platform through a single, dedicated API. This makes it easy to use the solutions of AT&T and its partners without a large investment or advanced technological skills. And providers can create their own mobile apps for the platform, which is vendor agnostic to mobile carriers and devices.

Once healthcare providers begin leveraging such technology to engage with consumers, mobile health apps can go far beyond the Candy Crush Saga-style entertainment stage and offer real benefits. Consider the following: A recent Deloitte report shows that the use of mobile devices and applications will enable healthcare providers to increase productivity, with savings estimated at about $305 billion over the next 10 years. Similarly, a Brookings Institution study predicts that remote monitoring technologies can save about $200 billion in chronic disease management costs over the next quarter century.

Mobile technologies have already transformed how we live and shop and entertain ourselves. Now the power of mobility is poised to fundamentally impact how healthcare is delivered. When all of us - consumers and providers - can get the right information in the right place and at the right time, we will begin to realize the transformative power of mobility in healthcare as well.