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Rise of mobile health care

Individuals are connecting to the Internet in exploding numbers, especially with mobile devices. Smartphone use grew by 45 percent from 2011 through 2012, and by 44 percent from 2012 through 2013, according to a new report by ABI Research. In addition, an article in Venture Beat citing the report concludes that there will be 1.4 billion smartphones in the world by the end of 2013. This doesn't even include the number of tablets, laptops, and other devices that people use to connect with the Internet. Health companies have been capitalizing on our increased use of mobile devices by developing apps to make health care more accessible and more efficient.

Allied Health

As quickly as smartphones proliferate, mobile health care (mHealth) can also expand across the globe. Start-ups are generating a plethora of mHealth ideas and bigger companies are buying smaller ones in order to remain viable in the mHealth sphere. mHealth investment is up 12 percent over the previous year, with $850 million dollars poured into different companies over the first six months of 2013, according to an article in EHR Intelligence. Investment would be even higher, but there is a bit of apprehension because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to decide on whether it will be in charge of regulating mHealth products.

What can mHealth do for doctors and hospitals?

A survey of over 2500 physicians was conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which shows that doctors feel that the "major responsibility" for the rising costs of medical care lay at the feet of a number of different factors. These include:

  • Malpractice Lawyers (60 percent)
  • Health Insurance Companies (59 percent)
  • Hospitals and Health Systems (56 percent)
  • Pharmaceutical and Device Manufacturers (56 percent)

Only 36 percent of the doctors surveyed said that they have any culpability for the rising costs. They also were asked about which methods they would support for helping to cut costs. Very few of them (7 percent) said that they favor changing the fee-for-service (FFS) payment method that exists currently. FFS payment means that the services received are unbundled, and doctors need to provide as many treatments as possible because payment is based on the quantity, not quality, of the services. This helps to inflate the costs of medical care throughout the country.

If doctors do not want to change this payment model, other avenues need to be examined to help curb some of the costs of health care. That is where mHealth can help tremendously. Using digital health services can lower costs, facilitate efficiency, and promote more productivity in hospitals and doctors' offices.

mHealth can help doctors who service people in rural areas

The CEO of Uplift Comprehensive Services, Garrett Taylor, recently wrote an article for Behavioral Healthcare about his experiences adopting more mHealth services and integrating them into his company. Based in North Carolina, Uplift provides assistance to patients in areas that can be very tough to reach. Sometimes doctors spend more hours travelling than conducting patient examinations. This was not cost effective for the company, and also lowered productivity. Taylor calculated that Uplift was spending at least $500 on each trip for in-person care. For a company with about 30 staff members, which includes two doctors and licensed therapists, spending money intelligently while providing efficient care is immensely important. Instead of sending their doctors to every home that needed care, Uplift began sending nurse practitioners who can connect with physicians at Uplift's home office when necessary.

Uplift was able to save even more money by instituting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in response to the requests from its employees. With the help of mobile device management technology "[a]ll documentation can be done on the device, electronic health records can be accessed online, and clinicians and patients can communicate with anyone else in the organization, including doctors, using these mobile remote devices," says Taylor. Uplift can also add, delete, and update software, as well as create security protocols so that if someone leaves Uplift, sensitive information can be erased from the mobile device.

mHealth can help veterans and children receive better care

Uplift Comprehensive Services is not alone in utilizing the benefits of mHealth. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has helped many through the use of telehealth and digital health technology. Jonah Czerwinski, senior advisor to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that about 500,000 veterans in 2012 and about 600,000 this year will receive health services through mobile technology. One of the biggest ways the VA wants to utilize mobile health technology is with its VitaLink system. It works by collecting physiological signals through the use of bio-sensors worn by patients and sends them to health care professionals through a "cloud-based analytics server" according to the product's website. Physicians, patients, care givers, and family members can have access to this information, making it possible for individuals with traumatic injuries to receive the best care while staying at home and making minimal visits to a hospital.

VitaLink uses the Verizon Private Data Network to help transfer the information it collects. Verizon is also partnering with the Children's Health Fund to help Miami, Phoenix, Detroit, San Francisco, Dallas, and New York equip mobile health clinics with more mobile technology in order to care for about 15,000 children who need medical exams. While most of these mobile clinics have been around for about 26 years, Verizon is "helping [the Children's Health Fund] to create the next generation of mobile care, with real time connectivity that enables doctors, patients and resources…to communicate like never before," said Jeb Weisman, CEO of Children's Health Fund.

Just health care

Czerwinski spoke at a joint gathering of the 5th Annual mHealth World Congress and the 2nd Annual Telehealth Congress July 24th in Boston. He spoke about the benefits of utilizing mHealth to help veterans, and how he hopes it becomes the norm: "It's connected healthcare - no 'tele-,' no 'm-…' [t]his is just health care." As the use of mobile devices grows, companies can build more technology to take advantage of the expanding abilities of health care professionals and patients to connect to each other over long distances. This means that psychologists can carry important records with them on a secured network to study whenever they need. Doctors can have consultations without a patient needing to come to their office, and even collaborate with long term care givers on who best to help their elderly wards.

"Mobile is addictive," says Joseph Kvedar, MD, director of Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health, "and we can take advantage of that."

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.