Mobile movement infiltrates the health IT world
Mobile devices are quickly becoming an important tool in doctors' bags
There is no getting around the fact that computing and communications in general is fast going mobile, fueled by the expansion of wireless networks and the astonishingly quick uptake of high-powered devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Health IT will not be immune to this.
Some might say that the mobile health revolution is already here. Consumer health applications available for Apple’s iPhone will probably go over the 13,000 mark by next summer from just 9,000 today, according to a MobiHealthNews analysis of data from Apple’s online AppStore.
Medical professionals are also catching the wave. Over 75 percent of U.S. physicians are thought to have smartphones, and software and attachments for them are turning those phones into a range of medical devices such as heart monitors, blood pressure readers, stethoscopes and glucose meters.
And worldwide, government use of mobile health devices is accelerating. About 100 of the World Health Organization’s member countries offered at least one mHealth service in a survey reported by WHO in June, and many offered between four and six. It all indicates a groundswell of activity for mHealth, WHO said in its report.
In the United States, government agencies are starting to pick up on the potential of mHealth. In April, the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, for example, launched the PTSD Coach smartphone app, intended to help military personnel and veterans learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after people suffer trauma.
It provides information about PTSD and lets users track their PTSD symptoms, enabling them to link to both public and personal sources of support. It also teaches users helpful strategies for managing PTSD symptoms on the go.
Tools like this are badly needed to help stem things such as suicides among members of the military and veterans, the rate of which has increased more than 50 percent since 2001 and for which PTSD is thought to be a leading cause.
Judging by the response, it’s also something that will be quickly taken up by service members. Some 5,000 people downloaded the app in the first month of its launch. Within two hours of it going live, a veteran had called the Veterans Crisis Line using information provided through the app and was provided an appointment at a local VA medical center.
The app is the first in a series that VA and DOD intend to produce to help service members and veterans manage their readjustment challenges and to get assistance.
In September, the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Minority Health said it was partnering with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) and AT&T on an initiative to see if mobile devices could be used to deliver diabetes self-management (DSMT) to minority communities.
Nearly 26 million people in the United States, some 8.3 percent of the total population, have diabetes, and 79 million adults 20 years of age and older have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and ethnic minorities have a higher rate of incidence.
“Telehealth and mHealth have the potential to greatly increase access to health services such as DSMT, which has been proven to reduce complications associated with diabetes,” said AADE CEO Lana Vukovljak.
Diabetes educators will deliver DSMT to patients using a video application on smartphones, and through a collaborative learning process, people with or at risk of diabetes can then get the knowledge and skills they need to modify their behavior and self-manage the disease.
Smartphones will only continue to get more powerful, with more processing power and memory and better graphics capabilities to go along with things such as Global Positioning System location capabilities. And market observers such as Berlin-based research2guidance expect smartphones to dominate the mHealth field, with a recent survey showing that still likely to be the case in 2015, though tablets such as Apple’s iPad will start to make inroads into the market by then.
In many ways, government is forcing the issue with mHealth. The Army, for example, wants to provide each of its soldiers with a smartphone. As a result, the service’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center is evaluating medical apps in order to have them ready when the Army actually distributes the devices. It also wants to have a medical app store ready from which soldiers can have various options to choose from and download.
And if anyone had any doubts that mHealth apps were becoming a major consideration, the Food and Drug Administration in July issued draft guidance for the health industry and device manufacturers about what mHealth apps it would consider regulating as medical devices.
The apps that could be regulated include those that enable the inflation and deflation of a blood pressure cuff, control insulin delivery through a pump, transform the phone into an actual medical device using attachments or various sensors, or perform some kind of diagnosis using patient data.