mHealth: An Industry Update By: Scott Carney Topic Overview & Introduction: Smart phones, tablets, and PDAs have paved

the way for a communication revolution, rapidly changing the way information is obtained and distributed. Mobile internet connections, specialized applications, and other features drastically transform personal interactions and subsequently affect other areas of everyday life, including our relationship with health care. The boundless potential of this technological boon allows for advances in medical care that would have been unachievable a mere decade ago, radically shaping the flow of information between patients and practitioners. The possibilities of mHealth applications are staggering. Vital signs can be monitored just as easily as scrolling up a game, immunization alerts can be sent regularly as a simple text message, and medical help can be administered quickly and efficiently (Mahmud 2012). While the prospects of the mHealth are still being realized, current data suggests a promising future for this still-bourgeoning field, offering truly groundbreaking ways of how health care is perceived and administered. New Updates: Though still emerging as a viable alternative to traditional medical practices, the initial implications of mHealth can already be felt, poised for a veritable “explosion” (Goldberg 2012) in the next few years. Between 2010 and 2011, the revenue from medical applications jumped from $100 million to an estimated $400 million (Prakash 2012), highlighting both the immediacy and the viability of these up-and-coming technologies. The results of these advances are far from trivial. Economic forecasts suggest that given their current rate of growth, mobile health technologies could save as much as $197 billion in the next 25 years in the United States alone (West 2012). Additionally, a forecast from statistical aggregate Statista predicts that by 2017, the United States and Canada will spend approximately $17.7 billion on mobile health technologies, yet will accrue more than $23 billion in their revenues the same year (Statista 2012). The Food and Drug Administration recently announced plans to finalize guidelines for the nearly 13,000 mHealth applications currently available to ensure they are being marketed and promoted accurately. Brad Merrill Thompson, general counsel for the mHealth Regulatory Collation, stated that only about 8% of mHealth apps “definitely need regulation” (Wicklund 2012). Thompson embraces the FDA’s potential regulations, stating that they “are not such a bad thing” (Wicklund 2012) and could even give certain apps a marketing edge, enticing prospective users with an official “seal of approval” that other applications may lack. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to complete their decisions later this year. In September 2012, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski announced the agency will create the position of Health Care Director, specializing in the advancement of mobile health technologies, anticipating that they will become an “integral part of health care” (Lewis 2012) within the next five years. Furthermore, the FCC plans to allocate a 2360-2400 MHz band to help facilitate mobile health adoption, allowing for a powerful wireless spectrum to allow physicians to monitor patients “in real time” (Dolan 2012), a technology previously used only in the aerospace industry.


Analysis & Trends: The effectiveness of mHealth technologies can already be observed in regards to obsesity and weight loss. According to a randomized trial conducted by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, mHealth apps proved to be an effective way to catalyze weight loss. Between 2006 and 2008, 210 overweight and obese individuals were observed for 24 months, half using standard journals to monitor weight loss and half using PDA applications with specialized notifications. The study concluded that those who used the PDA reminders in lieu of traditional paper logs “resulted in greater self-adherence to dietary self-monitoring” (Burke 2012), in turn resulting in a more effectual and sustainable weight-loss program. A 2011 study administered by HEALTHeME in conjunction with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North America yielded similar conclusions. Of the 300 overweight participants observed, nearly 91% stated that curbing their behavior “was easier after receiving specialized text messages” (Rachmuth 2011) tailored to their individual needs. mHealth innovations have also had a marked effect on the cost of patients suffering from chronic afflictions. In a 2009 study conducted by US Veterans Affairs, telehealth applications saw a 19% decrease in the total amount of hospitalizations, a 25% decrease in bed days of care, and a 27% decline in the 4-year diabetes mortality rate. These decreases in hospitalization time resulted in savings of over $2.2 billion annually (ACLP 2012). The savings from mHealth technologies can also be observed in other countries. A December 2011 report from the World Bank surveyed the effectiveness of SMS text message alerts to Kenyans afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Patients who received regular SMS messages were more likely to adhere to their treatment regimen, and saved an estimated 7% on overall costs. Conclusions: Brimming with possibilities, smart phones, tablets, laptops, and other modern technological advances are here to stay. The barriers between doctors and patients are rapidly eroding, simultaneously allowing for closer, personalized communication via mobile health apps and more efficient response times, resulting in a cheaper, streamlined health system unbound by the bureaucratic burdens that may plague traditional health centers. Accountable care organizations already strive to lower medical costs and build and maintain sustainable relationships with their patients, and these tech developments would only aid in their overall goals (Madison 2012). Patient-centered medical homes could benefit from these transformations as well, as their mission statement to “improve healthcare quality and decrease overall cost[s] to the national healthcare system” (Madison 2012). The power in most modern handheld devices now rival sophisticated, expensive medical equipment, and boast nearly ubiquitous accessibility. In September 2012, 17-year-old Catherine Wong won NPR’s prestigious “Big Idea” contest by wiring off-the-shelf electronic components to pick up the heart’s electrical signals, which are then transmitted via a smart phone to health care practitioners (Palca 2012), allowing for nearinstantaneous professional insight. Innovations like speak volumes about the power and sheer potential of mobile health care, these paving the way for a future where universal, instant access is just a click away.


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