Hippocrates said, “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” Mobile technology presents users an opportunity by means of accessibility to a myriad of health-related resources.
mHealth Technology is Changing Healthcare
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration defines mobile health (often referred to as mHealth) as, “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services and health research.” Fifty-two percent of smartphone users already access health-related information on their phones, and the number of people using app-enabled mHealth devices is projected to leap from 15 million in 2013 to 96 million by 2018.
There are more than 97,000 health- and fitness-related mobile apps available. Users can access and engage a smartphone or tablet for healthcare needs by: monitoring blood pressure and other vitals, pregnancy tracking, the tracking and analysis of medical conditions in lieu of an actual device (for example: as a stethoscope to record a heartbeat; for diabetics to check glucose levels; as a sensor on an inhaler to track asthma; and for urinalysis), and the management of sleep, moods, weight, and prescriptions.
Various mobile-integrated therapy applications are available for chronic illnesses and diseases, which account for more than 3/4 of healthcare spending. According to Digitas Health, 90 percent of patients with a chronic illness reported they would accept a mobile-app prescription from their doctor (yes, that exists!) compared to 66 percent who would accept a prescription for medication. Remote monitoring with mobile technology could reduce hospitalization for these patients by 47 percent and office visits by 65 percent, and save the U.S. $197 billion over the next 25 years.
For both iTunes and Google Play, the top health-related download is the “24/7 Medical Help” application Urgent Care. Personalized, physician-reviewed content is emphasized in WebMD’s app. The soon-to-be-released app Zest Health will take a concierge-like approach to healthcare with “Talk to Me,” “Schedule Me,” “Inform Me,” and “Track Me” functions. Of Americans who seek medical info online, 67 percent say this has made them better informed as patients. Data shows that physicians agree: 93 percent said they believe in the power of mobile health to improve a patients’ health, with many citing appointment alerts and care-management reminders as a top benefit.
mHealth technology provides more opportunities to reach people who are notoriously underserved by the healthcare industry: those below the poverty line, senior citizens, the disabled, those living in rural areas, and the homeless, many of whom have unmet health needs and poor access to care. Of these, the majority say they would prefer to save time, money and trouble by connecting with a doctor online, and many have phones. A recent study of people experiencing homelessness shows 70 percent own a cell phone.
SMS can be utilized for this purpose, as well as to deliver health information to specific demographics. The program TXT4Tots encourages healthy communities by providing a downloadable library of short, relevant text messages about nutrition, physical activity, etc. to send to parents and caregivers of small children.
Data predicts that mHealth’s integration into traditional healthcare systems will continue to advance, with increasingly more opportunities to take advantage of. Over the next 10 years mHealth is expected to save the healthcare industry more than $300 billion in increased productivity, as well as improve quality, increase access, stimulate consumer involvement and decrease costs. Obstacles to mHealth evolution are far outnumbered by the possibilities. As Mobile Beat says: “Welcome to the brave new world of healthcare.”