Mobile health pervades recent top healthcare rankings

By Neil Versel
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Neil_Versel_LargeMobile health is showing up at the top of a lot of lists lately.

Ahead of next week's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil -- better known as Rio+20 -- Mashable columnist Zoe Fox has outlined five reasons why "mobile is the future of sustainable development." No. 1 is disease response.

Fox highlighted one of many mHealth projects underway in sub-Saharan Africa, a Hewlett-Packard effort with Positive Innovation for the Next Generation and the Clinton Health Access Initiatives to track disease outbreaks in Kenya and Botswana. Thanks to text messaging, health workers now can report outbreaks of malaria to public-health authorities in about 3 minutes. The old, analog method could take weeks to get such information from isolated areas.

"Mobile phones in the health space feels like the Internet and ecommerce in 1994 and 1995," HP global health director Paul Ellingstad tells Mashable. "Right now, we know it’s a connection point, since 5.7 billion people have access to a mobile phone. With that sort of pervasiveness, you can provide health information, education and prevention to millions at risk of death."

No. 5 on the Mashable list is disaster response. The example cited is a new first-aid smartphone app from the American Red Cross, the first in a series of emergency preparedness apps the organization is developing. That means that two of the five reasons why mobile is the future of sustainable development can be classified as mHealth. Not bad.

Closer to home, wireless and connected health are identified as only two of the 10 "most promising areas to enhance patient care and reduce cost through the strategic use of health IT" on a Verizon Connected Healthcare list. But, they do capture the top two spots, and upon deeper inspection, hold an important presence throughout the list.

No. 1 is telemedicine, which Verizon says "removes the geographic barriers to quality care," while mHealth takes the second spot because, according to the telecommunications company, it "takes flexibility to the next level in caring for patients."

For that matter, third on the list is chronic disease management. Pretty much every reader of MobiHealthNews can think of several ways in which mHealth technologies are helping patients control their care and healthcare providers closer tabs on vulnerable populations. Or, as Verizon puts it, "chronic disease is e-manageable."

It also could be argued that No. 4, wellness and preventive care, will increasingly rely on mobility, just as No. 8, electronic health records -- the "building blocks," according to Verizon -- already are. In the seventh spot is cloud computing, which is the backbone of a lot of mHealth applications. That makes six out of 10 with some relation to mobile and wireless technologies. Not bad.

Still, this is an immature industry. As MobiHealthNews editor Brian Dolan recently told the Washington Post, "Currently, consumers are really on their own when it comes to finding high-quality, worthwhile apps, and it’s mostly trial and error," says Dolan. The same could be said for a lot of healthcare professional apps, including some mobile versions of EHRs.

Be proud of the recognition, but don't be satisfied.