The mHealth revolution is close, but there are still a number of significant hurdles to overcome before widespread adoption is possible.
No technology can match mobile health, or mHealth’s potential from a patient centricity perspective. This category of tech, which includes motion sensors, wearable heart and blood sugar monitors, and patient-reported outcome apps, provides a stream of real-time data in a convenient, easy-to-use format. If used in concert with other technologies, including electronic health records (EHRs) and telemedicine, these devices could enable a paradigm shift in patient care.
But there’s a long way to go from where we are now to that seamless, fully integrated world. This year, companies will begin to tackle the problems that wearables present and overcome structural obstacles to widespread adoption.
We Have Issues to Address
Eventually, the goal is for mHealth devices to allow continuous monitoring of patient vitals, symptoms and activity in the real world. This data can be used in a wide variety of ways, from monitoring recovery from an acute illness to tracking symptoms and adjusting treatments for chronic conditions in real-time. This live data feed helps doctors provide personalized care that’s responsive to patient needs, which results in better clinical and functional outcomes. Doctors spend their energy and time on effective care, while patients have more control over their lives and their health.
As of now, mHealth devices mostly exist in the form of OTC consumer goods, giving users basic information about their step counts, heart rates, or sleep patterns. To adapt these technologies for widespread medical use, the industry needs to first address a number of different issues.
Demonstrating Value: It’s not enough for wearables and mHealth apps to track steps or heartbeats. Developers need to tie those measurements to tangible patient outcomes, like improved cardiac performance or fewer emergency room visits.
Validating Outcome Measurements: Though these devices are accurate enough for casual consumer use, medical devices will need to adhere to a higher standard. Wearables, sensors, and apps will need to be tested alongside established modes of measurement to prove field viability.
Cybersecurity: Once these devices begin to transmit patient data via electronic communication, safety and security becomes paramount. Developers will need to protect against these threats from the earliest design stage, as well as invest in the technical expertise to combat new threats as they emerge. This will likely mean collaboration with device security and commercial IT security firms.
Patient Ease of Use: mHealth monitoring systems have the potential to get complicated, which will reduce adherence and affect outcomes. All devices and systems need to be designed with patients in mind.
The mHealth Ecosystem
Solving any of these problems in a vacuum is bound to lead to failure. In 2018, healthcare practitioners and device developers will need to focus on the forest, not the trees.
Whether developers choose to build everything themselves or partner with other companies, they’ll need to construct a device and software ecosystem that coordinates multiple devices to work in harmony with one another. This means running solutions through one, easy-to-use interface that works on multiple platforms, including Mac, Android, and Microsoft. We believe that strategic partnerships will work best for most solutions, allowing more companies of any size to participate while creating a powerful system for delivery.
Constructing this kind of ecosystem will require a lot of research about treatment guidelines and pathways as well as the patient experience. By combining quantitative analysis of real-world data from patient records, pharmacies, and insurance companies with patient focus groups and social media polls, we can obtain a well-rounded, data-driven picture of what this integrated system would look like.
The mHealth industry is charging ahead with new technology, but without a concerted effort to create the necessary infrastructure and partnerships, it could be a long time before we see widespread implementation. We’re looking forward to see how developers and healthcare providers respond to these challenges in the coming year.