One feels almost assaulted by financial projections of the mHealth market every day. Extrapolations from the increasing use of smartphones, the use of iPads by physicians, the adoption of patient portals by insurers, research of the Internet for medical purposes are commonplace. I can almost predict verbatim the final paragraphs of some of them. Occasionally there will be a welcomed “Let’s bring it back to Earth” post. Mobile health is part of the overall movement of the digitalization of healthcare. While adoption of these technologies will take a while to occur for a variety of reasons, (many of which have been the subject of posts by this author), it would not be fair to let the hype become the face of the industry and an easy target of critics. These technologies WILL become a major part of healthcare for the following reasons:
1. Financial and outcomes trends of healthcare not only create opportunity for mHealth, but make it an imperative. It is a mistake to think of mHealth as either the next Christmas toy to buy or the savior of healthcare. It is neither. The technologies will change the way the usual suspects in healthcare interact with each other and with patients. Self-management will become part of the landscape. While mHealth will not be the fix all of healthcare’s problems, it makes perfect sense if one considers the flaws in our present system: communication, continuity of care, caregiver support, efforts to age at home, and unacceptable cost escalation.
2. mHealth is already playing an important role part of other countries. The mHealth Alliance has been conducting initiatives in low-income countries for many years. The British press has publicized the positive contributions that mHealth can make and the NHS is encouraging physicians to use medical apps. Text messaging is being utilized in programs related to HIV, malaria, and pregnancy underdeveloped nations. The importance of mHealth has been recognized by the NIH which has established mHealth Training Institutes. Hopefully this will become an increasingly important focus of attention.
3. mHealth is patient-centric. Medicine must obviously become more about the patient, and not about the provider or hospital. Digital technologies and mobile health ones specifically are ways in which Health 2.0 and The Society for Participatory Medicine may achieve many of their goals.
4. The U.S. Supreme Court Decision regarding issues concerning the healthcare reform law will not alter the need for mHealth technologies. Much of the healthcare industry will potentially be affected by the ramifications of these decisions put forth in the very near future. Regardless of the decision, the needs for mHelath technologies will either remain high or markedly increase with the entrance of millions more into the insured patient population..
5. mHealth technologies are already in use and appreciated. We are not dealing with hypothetical situations. Many mHealth technologies are already here and are becoming important parts of healthcare as well as technology planning for healthcare in the future. Physicians have been performing remote monitoring of cardiac rhythm devices for 12 years. Technologies used in clinical trials as well as crowdsourced clinical trials are gaining traction.
The hype generated almost daily about mHealth is pumped by investors, consultants, and Wall Street analysts. The exact or estimated monetary figures are not important. What IS important is the central role that these technologies might play. Their rise to prominence will not be a result of hype but of the true benefits derived from them. We must let the healthcare supply and demand weed out the useless technologies and support the proven ones. For what matters most is the patient. EHRs have not proven their financial or outcomes return of investment yet. The IT paradox effect may very well be in play, and perhaps will extend to mHealth. We will have to see. What is clear is that mHealth tech is needed and not going away, despite backlash from the hype.