Is mobile health the next killer app?

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of buzz around a new technology that was going to revolutionize the healthcare industry and greatly improve physician patient interaction: the electronic medical record. And yet, somehow, five years later, the EMR is not very wide spread at all. Most people still use pen and paper before an appointment with a new doctor. Do doctors really expect the handwritten (from memory) patient history form to be an accurate representation of their patient’s health?

Now, mobile health is being heralded as the technology that will transform how physicians practice medicine and patients manage their health and disease. A few weeks ago at a New York Health Business Leaders panel discussion titled Is Mobile Health the Next Killer App?, several mobile health companies gathered to discuss the use of wireless technologies in the delivery of healthcare.

Mobile health – also referred to as mHealth, wireless health and telehealth – encompasses a broad range of applications that span the entire healthcare ecosystem. It can be a physician accessing a patient EMR on an iPad, a patient with diabetes tracking his glucose readings via a Blackberry app or a hospital sending medication reminder alerts to transplant patients. Mobile health solutions can be employed when people are healthy as well. Some examples of this are women receiving mobile reminders to take their birth control or using mobile applications to track their exercise or even their pregnancy.

Studies have shown that patients are more willing to track their own health and contribute to more robust data sets with the help of a mobile platform than without. Mobile health has unique potential to open the doors to personalized medicine and get more people engaged with their own health.

Despite its transformative potential, mobile health has a long road ahead before it reaches mainstream use. There is no doubt that the healthcare space has a need for technologies that save time, keep better records, and give patients control over their own their health. Mobile technologies can potentially fulfill these needs, but they’re not quite there yet. By and large, mainstream consumers aren’t yet using mobile health technologies. But why does the uptake seem so sluggish in a space where there appears to be so much unmet need?

For starters, although mobile health companies are building the market, the healthcare space can be a minefield of regulatory and legal constraints. These limitations can be daunting for healthcare novices. Even Google, a seemingly invincible information/tech powerhouse, has elected to retire their Google Health personal medical records offering.

Uptake might also be dented by the still-present tech gap: Significant segments of the population still do not have access to smart mobile technology. Those individuals who do have access need to be motivated to take control of their own health.

This leads us to the question of who represents the biggest roadblock to an mHealth revolution. Is it physicians who are reluctant to introduce new technologies into their practices? Is it payers who view mobile health as a new financial responsibility? Or is it the patients themselves, feeling content managing their healthcare needs the way they always have?

For the level of benefit they provide, today’s mobile health technologies still place a significant burden on the user, which most people still aren’t willing to take on. When either the perceived benefit or the joyfulness of the user experience is able to outweigh the burden of uptake for target audiences, then mHealth can gain the critical mass necessary to revolutionize healthcare. While it feels like we haven’t quite overcome the burden, we’re finally getting close.

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The organizations listed below are finding new ways to use mobile tech to bring better healthcare solutions to both consumers and professionals.

Happtique is the first mobile application store for healthcare. Happtique offers healthcare enterprises – like hospitals and physician practices – the ability to create individually branded, secure substores for employee and patient mobile technology use. Happtique is a subsidiary of GNYHA Ventures, Inc., the business arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

MedHelp is a pioneer in building online health communities to connect people with leading medical experts and others who have similar experiences. MedHelp has partnered with GE to create a number of consumer mobile apps to track conditions such as pregnancy, mood, sleep, diet and fitness, with almost 1.0 million downloads in less than a year.

Openstream’s SmartCare enables rapid development, deployment and management of secure mobile applications for HCPs, nurses, physicians, Clinical Trial subjects and other members of the healthcare ecosystem. SmartCare applications enable natural interaction using speech, touch, keyboard and digital-ink, with use of mobile device-appropriate peripherals like camera and GPS. SmartCare is built on Openstream’s Cue-meTM Multi-modal Platform.

Text in the City
This is a text messaging service for teens attending the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in NYC. It allows them to ask confidential questions and sign up for birth control reminders, as well as receive weekly ”healthbytes” of useful and interesting health-based advice, via text.

The Lathe
The Lathe created myBETAapp, an app for patients who use Bayer HealthCare’s BETASERON to manage their multiple sclerosis. It was developed as a native iOS app and a WebKit-based mobile web app (works with iOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, etc.).

Your Nurse Is On
This is a novel platform that employs bi-directional text, phone and email communications to help hospitals and agencies put “the right healthcare providers, in the right places, right now.”