By David Doherty
Forget about remote monitoring, wearable sensors, NFC/RFID, smartphones, software apps, GPS, mEHR's, video messaging, 3G video calling and SMS. These are part of a wave that is without a doubt advancing, but the evidence of successful mHealth applications can already be found throughout the healthcare system:
Urgent Care: For over a decade emergency medical services around the world have reported that increasing proportions of their calls originate from mobiles and evidence shows that patients are increasingly feeling confident to make those calls via mobile in preference to available landlines. Mobile emergency calls enable several new advantages through combinations of device, network and service technologies including location, caller ID, always best connected, call waiting messages, the ability to deliver real-time advice on first aid/medical treatments, more efficient deployment of response personnel/equipment and so on.
General Health Benefits: Imagine how the health of the worlds population has been improved because we have mobiles: the rushing on our roads that used to be excusable because it was impossible/very difficult to call/text ahead to say you'll be five minutes late, the reassurances that we now have knowing that our daughter/son is safe on a night out without having to wait until they arrive back in the door, new found abilities to offer an ear to the lonely or house bound because we now have anywhere anytime access.
Preventative Care: Mobile is ideally suited to serve preventable diseases and help manage chronic disease by motivating individuals (through the use of highly personalized multimedia content) to make healthier lifestyle choices without the burden of time/effort or the indiscretion that might be associated with the use of another/differentiated electronic device.
Mobile is the best way for us to connect care with a patients electronic health records and it is only by this type of streamlining of the care process that we will be able to safely remove the several layers of wasteful practices that our systems are loaded up with. A recent IBM survey uncovered that patients feel they can't afford proactive healthcare and the most obvious reason for this is that the total costs of care swell as a result of other non-care related requirements. mHealth eliminates these for both patients and physicians -- to patients mHealth means less taxi rides to/from the clinic, time off work/loss of earnings, need for childcare arrangements -- to doctors mHealth means more immediate informed access to relevant patients from anywhere.
Primary Care: The use of mobiles to receive primary care advice is very popular in the UK where the NHS Direct answers millions of mobile calls from patients. In this instance mobiles also enable the monitoring/control of fraudulent access to the service as well as continuity of care. Some innovative GP's are also doing great work with SMS appointment reminders, and we're working with GP clinic's with whom the majority of patients have already registered their mobile number.
Online Health: The mobile is not only increasing access to the online world (did you know more people use MMS picture messaging than desktop email?) but it's more suited to the privacy needs as it operates through an unshared device that's always on and within an arm's reach. The mobile Internet will revolutionize online social health media by protecting against privacy issues whilst opening up opportunities for the collection and sharing of data for benefit of the individual as well as the greater good. It will be very different to the rather ridiculous situation we have today in which you can find doctors blogging about patients who are blogging about their private consultation.
mHealth holds promise not only because it has a means of payment built-in but because what works somewhere will work anywhere. mHealth services are putting an end to the days of trials and pilots that go nowhere. There is little to stop the replication of effective solutions once they have been successfully piloted in one locality, because an "always carried," familiar, patient-owned device removes the need for huge infrastructural expenditure or new learning.
The Future: Whilst healthcare was historically mobile, the invention of modern medicine has led to interventions requiring expensive equipment and highly skilled operatives and this drove an increasing need for the patient to visit centers of excellence. As the newest and most personal of the "Seven Mass Medias," mobile is ideally aligned with patient needs when managing their highly private health data and the communicative needs of healthcare delivery. Health hasn't found a natural ally in other forms of mass media such as the cinema, radio, TV or even the PC, but the unshared nature of mobile is helping the healthcare delivery process to leap straight into the hand of the patient.
The advance of mHealth will be community-driven. It will be an industry in which the market leaders won't make money by just maintaining the status quo but by earning pedigree for their compelling offers, ethics, openness, trust and willingness to collaborate with patients.
President Obama can only rely on his eight year term to transform the healthcare industry, but patient owned mHealth solutions have the advantage of Moore's Law and being part of the newest trillion dollar industry. In 2016 the smart mobile devices being sold in your local mobile retail store -- and the networked services they can support -- will be so different, that they are unimaginable to most of us. The best bit is that, as with mobile adoption, this trend is not just something for the well-heeled or educated.
David Doherty, Head of Business Development at 3G Doctor, blogs about important innovations and developments in the mHealth market over at the 3G Doctor Blog. In 2006 3G Doctor launched the world's first service to enable the public to video consult with General Medical Council registered Doctors at anytime and from anywhere using a 3G Video Mobile. 3G Doctor also provides a free service enable patients to Create, Manage and Share their important Health Information using their 3G Video Mobile. In the UK and Ireland the service is accessible across all five 3G Mobile Networks and more than 10 million 3G subscribers.