mHealth: The Next Generation of Healthcare
With the evolution of mobility booming in recent times, it is clear that every aspect of public life which has been affected by the benefits of such technology should expect to experience even more radical changes over the coming decade.
The introduction of mobile technology into society has already directly caused improvements to general healthcare and wellbeing for a considerable percentage of the world's population. Countless mobile applications are designed to encourage and condition their user's fitness activity, help track weight loss, and capitalise on a number of other intelligent health-related advantages.
The healthcare and life sciences industry is regarded as one of the top three fields to accelerate mobile device growth in the next five years. This is evident in the measurement that patients who downloaded at least one mobile health (mHealth) application onto their mobile device doubled between the years 2011 and 2012. (1)
As the existing healthcare industry undergoes a drastic transition into mHealth, the relationship between practitioners and patients will change, and the development of medication and products will rapidly accelerate.
Remote monitoring capabilities will not only address the reluctance, or even difficulty, associated with visiting a doctor's surgery, they will also provide invaluable support to the healthcare received by patients. Thus far, chronic diseases have been the main focus of remote monitoring technology, due to the huge costs of treatment and the extremely high percentage of deaths attributed to chronic patients.
Perhaps the first big step towards the imminent future of remote monitoring in m-Health is the Vitality Glow Cap. This revolutionary concept provides the most attentive and personalised experience ever seen for patients' compliance towards taking prescriptions.
The Glow Cap (quite literally a bottle cap) is a type of alarm system, loaded with individual IP addresses, programmed to alert patients each time they're due to take their medication. For every dosage that is taken, the patient and the doctor both automatically receive compliance reports via a transmitter, located inside the Glow Cap itself. Once the patient's medication has run out, the Glow Cap can be used to order a repeat prescription.
Alternatively, if patients neglect to take their medication at the correct time, the Glow Cap will persistently remind them with increasing alarm sequences, and even send a reminder email or text message to the relevant person if necessary.
Vitality reports, from market research, that patient adherence to taking their medication can potentially rise from the industry average 50% up to a staggering 85% by using the Glow Cap. (2)
Patient-specific technology of this nature is set to make significant improvements to the convenience of taking prescribed medication, and more importantly to patient compliance, which will consequently reduce annual healthcare spending at an exponential rate.
Similarly to remote monitoring, the idea that patients will be able to receive a diagnosis via mobile devices is becoming a reality. Integration of this kind of service into regular healthcare practice could be instrumental in optimising both emergency patient care, as well as minor health issues, from virtually any location at any given time.
The possibilities are vast in this regard, with a number of mHealth product manufacturers and solution providers introducing wearable devices to aid patient care. Much like the trends emerging in mobility for the general use of the public, wearable devices will track the behavioural metrics of users, in this instance to gain insight into their medical condition. From this, augmented reality capabilities could be leveraged to produce on-demand healthcare advice regarding anything from climate to pollen count, or any other relevant variables which may affect the user's wellbeing.
Undoubtedly, the automated collation of such specific medical data becoming commonplace could result in tremendous progress being made in industry research and analysis. Cost reduction and better insight into key health issues are likely to be among the most beneficial aspects of mHealth in the coming years. The potential for progress is virtually limitless, due to the exceptionally detailed records which will be accessible to healthcare professionals in the future.
The UKs National Health Service is in the midst of a complete digital makeover, with plans to introduce a paperless policy, fully implemented by 2018. However, it appears that the current NHS landscape still has much work to do before achieving this target.
NHS staff members still heavily rely on hand-written notes, verbal communication, traditional filing methods and desktop-based systems, rather than the use of mobile data and devices desired by strategists.
The excessive amount of time which nurses and doctors devote to completing administrative tasks is not ideal, as their duties should focus on administering patient care.
Introducing a paperless policy into a national organisation such as the NHS would reduce costs on a colossal scale, simultaneously creating a more patient-focused experience alongside a more efficient and accurate system.
Transitions in the US
In some areas of the US, use of the iPad has been widely adopted by healthcare facilities for regular use. Using tablet devices in a medical environment makes sense from a treatment point of view, due to the volume of information required by practitioners, and the need for accuracy when using this information. Tablets are also extremely practical for daily tasks, as paperwork is considerably reduced and administrative responsibilities become less time consuming.
Healthcare facilities are actually being incentivised to adopt mobile devices such as iPads by government payments. Tablet devices at patient bedsides to access patient-related medical information including medication charts and patient clinical records appear to be the way forward, providing that the clinical data systems are touch-optimised to allow for a high speed of data-entry.
Tablets are also coming into prominence in the pharmaceutical industry, by using apps to communicate with clinicians and patients, as well as aiding in research methodologies.
On-demand video services which allow patients to speak with clinicians in real-time are beginning to gain notable traction in the US. Accessed via app platforms, these online appointments simply require the entry of symptoms by the patient, followed by their medical history and basic details. They are then assigned a practitioner equipped to deal with their condition. At the end of each call, patients can then submit feedback on their experience and the quality of the treatment they received.
These services only cater to minor medical issues in their current functionality, and are generally not yet available 24/7. However, there are thousands of practitioners involved across the US, and the services have received mostly positive feedback from patients.
The introduction of m-Health services, providing doctors and patients with seemingly unlimited access to medical data, could be the most important transition into mobility of any industry to date.
These are just some of the innovative and life-changing ways in which mobility can help the healthcare industry grow and progress. Of course, many of the conceptual factors which will contribute to such impending developments go hand-in-hand and, can be easily seen as overlapping.
The potential for cost reduction suggests huge benefits for healthcare services, which will consequently contribute to a significant improvement in patient treatment. The rise of new technologies capable of integrating medical devices into a connected platform enhances the functionality of devices, reduces the burden of man power and minimises errors. (3)
As the field of mobility continues to evolve, its shaping of society is becoming increasingly fluid and more difficult to define. However, if the risks of security, connectivity and harmonisation can be met constructively in the early stages of integration, the global healthcare industry could soon reach a framework that is more patient-focused and value-based than ever before.
1. Delottie, mHealth in an mWorld [Report]
2. Vitality Glow Cap
3. Frost & Sullivan, What's Hot in the Healthcare Industry [Report]