mHealth opportunity: Oversized, underdeployed

By Brian Dolan
01:01 pm
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By Laurie Orlov, Aging In Place Technology Watch

Apocalypse and opportunity -- the bet is that we're not going to age well. Our favorite gloom-and-doom source, CNBC, has offered up today's Doomsday Boomer Prediction. Those boomers are going to be a healthcare nightmare: "They visit the doctor more, they consume more services, and they aren’t afraid to use their $7 trillion in collective wealth to improve their quality of life. From physical therapy, to cosmetic surgery, to the latest in life-saving technology, Boomers just aren’t built to grow old gracefully." So inventions of every type are being crafted to help us in our quest to fight this gracelessness and support us as we get old enough to really take that predicted 8% Medicare spending bite out of the GDP by 2035.

Hold onto your hats -- mobile health will save the day. GSMA, the global mobile industry trade association has discovered 'mHealth' as a growth driver, and they have some numbers for us: worldwide savings of $175 - $200 billion for effectively managing chronic diseases -- $21 billion in savings in the US. Says the CMO for GSMA, Michael O'Hara (formerly with Microsoft): "mHealth devices and services will enable providers to diagnose disease, manage complications and intervene ahead of acute events, such as a heart failure, through remote monitoring and also improve compliance with treatment programs like medication reminders, care giver alerts and smart pills." In that same article, "O’Hara also pointed to locator devices for dementia patients as a key example of mHealth."

And spending on mobile health -- that's going to go up too. According to a Harris poll from last year, 80 percent of Americans want "mobile healthcare services delivered from smart phones, wearable bio-sensors and disease monitoring devices." So I hope someone nets out the spend and the savings -- spending on telehealth "mobile apps and services is expected to grow to $6.1 billion by 2012" according to Data Monitor, although, sigh, the general telehealth category still has not yet reached broad adoption by medical practitioners.

Have we been here before? Have you ever noticed that when an industry category or particular product doesn't succeed, it is renamed and re-launched as new and exciting -- hopefully not to be associated with the previous name or dashed expectations? And further, the 'new' category sweeps in the prior generation of products that still have utility? Thus goeth telehealth which maybe has too much 'tele', not enough 'health,' more likely too associated with limited adoption and growth. Enter eHealth, broad enough to encompass all of health information technology (HIT), and mobile health (mHealth), the subset that is all wireless, whether in the home tracking us, out the door tracking us with our wearable devices, or notifying us or our doctor (dream) about what's going on at home.

Not the future -- products are here, now. Remote monitoring, tracking of dementia patients, caregiver alerts (from activities, changes in condition, or emergencies, as with PERS devices), medication reminders, these have all have been introduced and around for some time now. Maybe as mHealth products and services, they will be reimbursed (dream) or be clustered at the end of the aisle in Best Buy or Walgreen's (perhaps another dream), where we consumers can pick one up. Maybe there will be an online shopping environment where we can easily locate them, either for ourselves, or for family members.

A plea -- let's stop sizing the future and commit to the present. What is the plan to take all of this mHealth and deploy? Our senior population needs help now. They are at risk of falling in their homes, they struggle (even inside independent living, assisted living, and nursing homes) from isolation and most importantly lack of monitoring when they are alone in their bathrooms, their bedrooms or en route in between. The result is danger, disease, and suffering. What's the plan to put all these smart mHealth brains together and get cheap, easily configured, useful, wearable, mobile health devices together bundled together into a solution to save them -- now?

Thoughts welcome.

This article originally appeared in Orlov's Aging In Place Technology Watch blog

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