mHealth: More Than Just a Trend
In today’s technology-driven world, no industry is immune to the mobile revolution — and that includes the health care industry. Hospital administrators, private practitioners, nurses, healthcare data scientists and mobile-solution developers across the globe are constantly evaluating and innovating new ways to enhance traditional face-to-face patient care through mobile technology. Apps, monitoring devices and other mHealth tools are quickly making their way into everyday medical practice. The recent surge in popularity and adoption is causing many healthcare professionals to ask if it’s a passing trend or here to stay. According to the mobile phone experts at Ericsson, 6.1 billion people worldwide, or 70 percent of the global population, will have smartphones by 2020. While only time will tell, it certainly appears as though mHealth is on the path to a long, healthy life.
According to The World Health Organization, mHealth involves the use of mobile devices and wireless technologies in delivering patient care, researching medicine and managing patient data. In addition to allowing medical providers to capture essential patient data, the use of mobile devices empowers patients to communicate with their provider between visits using instant messaging or video chat via tablet or laptop.
This trend isn’t limited to patients. Nurses increasingly use their smartphones to better organize their day and access information fast. In fact, an InCrowd survey found that 88% of respondents used smartphone apps in their daily nursing work. From researching drug interactions and accessing patient care information, to setting timers for medicine administration and using workflow apps, smartphones have become an integral part of nursing.
Advantages of mHealth
mHealth has come a long way in helping pave the way for better patient care management and overall medical treatment. Collectively, new technologies have improved quality of care, fostered patient engagement, improved the physician-patient relationship and helped those with chronic diseases manage their conditions.
Increased quality of care: mHealth has made an impact on a global scale, especially in terms of increasing the quality of care. A study published in the journal BMJ Open found that replacing pagers with a wireless system at a U.K. medical facility decreased hospital stay length for patients and reduced incident rates.
Better patient engagement: The Affordable Care Act has helped promote a shift toward value-based reimbursement aimed at getting patients more involved in their own well-being. mHealth literally puts the control in their hands. Today’s brand of patients are ready and willing to embrace health-related apps and respond to tech-driven patient education resources.
Chronic condition management: As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity impact nearly half of the country’s adult population. The health care industry is increasingly using mHealth to help patients manage these conditions by enabling individuals to more independently care for themselves.
Disadvantages of mHealth Integration
While mHealth has clear benefits, there are also barriers that cause concern for many health care professionals. Obstacles like accessibility, usability, misdiagnosis and security are potential stumbling blocks for the adoption of mHealth.
Access and usability: Certain populations may not have access to mHealth tools based on their age, income and geographic location. Ericsson research estimates that 30 percent of the population will not have access to smartphones over the next four years, with affordability cited as a primary hurdle to many. For seniors and non-tech savvy users, it’s often a usability issue. The Pew Research Center found that only 18 percent of older adults felt they could learn how to use a smartphone on their own, though 77 percent would be willing to learn with some guidance.
Data Privacy: In general, privacy policies leave much to be desired. In 2013, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit advocacy organization in San Francisco, analyzed 43 free and paid apps, finding that 72 percent of them exposed personal information such as dates of birth, email addresses, and medical information. Losing a phone with all of your contacts and pictures can be frustrating — losing a mobile device that has all of your sensitive health information can be downright dangerous for patients. Medical care providers also need to take great care in handling electronic medical records: Lost health information can lead to patient privacy violations and costly noncompliance fees related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
Inaccuracy and lack of regulation/approval: Many of today’s apps claim they are capable of measuring heart rates, stress levels and even blood pressure. However, when tested, these apps aren’t always as accurate as described. This unreliable information, coupled with the wealth of inaccurate medical information on the internet, can cause patients to think they are healthier than they are, or conversely, worry unnecessarily (or worse) due to incorrect self-diagnosis. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension found that only 3 percent of the top 107 apps found using the terms “hypertension” and “high blood pressure” were developed by health care agencies and none of them had been FDA-approved. This is why mHealth resources should be viewed as a complement to — not a replacement of — in-person medical treatment.
Is mHealth Just a Trend?
mHealth is continually evolving along with the technological landscape, which may make it seem like a trend — and some tools may indeed be passing fads. A once-popular bracelet that monitored your heart rate and daily activity may now take a back seat to a watch that also accepts text messages and enables voice calls. However, with the many advantages mHealth affords patients and providers alike, it’s unlikely that the health care community will be disconnecting itself anytime soon.
If topics such as mHealth are of interest to you, you may want to consider pursuing a degree in healthcare administration.