The use of mobile technology in healthcare is on the increase, there is a steady shift towards acceptance of health care applications targeted to mobiles. Currently healthcare systems around the globe are experiencing a multitude of challenges, in addition the obvious problem of cost of providing healthcare, there are also other challenges such as prevalence of life-style related conditions, identifying tools for empowering patients with information for better decision making, providing tools for self-care, and creating applications for managing health conditions.
Wikipedia: mHealth (also written as m-health or sometimes mobile health) is a recent term for medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, PDAs, and other wireless devices. mHealth applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, and direct provision of care.
Mobile devices can provide seamless and secure access to health care services via the internet enabled mobile devices and this will hopefully reduce some of the cost of providing healthcare if the right applications are correctly implemented. In the USA, President Obama has earmarked a significant sum to Health Information Technology (HIT). The implementation teams should consider the benefits that could be achieved if they invested some of these funds in consumer health applications that concentrate on health education and behavior changes customized for mobile phones. ‘Prevention is better that cure’…. and it is also much cheaper in the long run.
Mobile Health (M-Health) contains three important components. The first component is the availability of a reliable mobile or wireless architecture; the second component is the integration of medical sensor or wearable devices for monitoring; the final component is a robust application and services infrastructure. Typically M-Health relates to custom designed applications and systems such as telemedicine, telehealth, e-health and biomedical sensing systems. With the rapid advances in Information Communication Technology (ICT), nanotechnology, bio monitoring, mobile networks, pervasive computing, wearable systems, and drug delivery approaches; the boundaries of M-health are shifting and there is the expectation that with appropriate technology choice we could transform the healthcare sector to generally link their systems with mobile devices. This possibility is fueling the M-health phenomenon. M-Health aims to make healthcare accessible to anyone, anytime, and anywhere by elimination constraints such as time, location in addition to increasing both the coverage and quality of healthcare.
Mobile and wireless concepts in healthcare are typically related to bio-monitoring and home monitoring, however more recently the trend to incorporate mobile technology has become more prevalent across almost the whole of the healthcare performing a variety of data acquisition tasks. Bio monitoring using mobile networks includes physiological monitoring of parameters such as heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG), electroencephalogram, (EEG) monitoring, blood pressure, blood oximetry, and other physiological signals. Alternative uses include physical activity monitoring of parameters such as movement, gastrointestinal telemetry fall detection, and location tracking. Using mobile technology, patient records can be accessed by health-care professionals from any given location by connection to the institution’s internal network. Physicians now have ubiquitous access to patient history, laboratory results, pharmaceutical data, insurance information, and medical resources. These mobile healthcare applications improve the quality of patient care. Handheld devices can also be used in home health care, for example, to fight diabetes through effective monitoring. A comprehensive overview of some of these mobile health applications and research will be presented in new book titled Mobile Health Solutions for Biomedical Applications.
What the book doesn’t talk about but I believe it is important to mention is the role that mobiles could potentially have reaching the marginalized population around the world. There have been a multitude of reports that discuss the high rates of mobile phone diffusion in minority groups within the USA and in developing countries. For example, the Reducing Health Disparities project identified the mobiles as a key resource for Reducing Health Disparities. The report suggests that mobile phone use is exploding by lower income households, and that the use of mobile phones for health applications is just beginning to grow and will likely become significant.
Research by Nielsen Mobile (Telephia), a leading provider of performance measurement information to the mobile industry reported that the underserved communities in the U.S. were the largest users of cell phone voice minutes per person. Cell phones have reached a point in technology diffusion where African American and Hispanic groups have become the largest per capita users of basic cell phone usage. If the mobile health applications are developed, the drive for low-cost handsets as well as the growth of cheap or free wireless services provides evidence that they can be accessed. Build them and they will be used.
Mobile phone based health applications are already available for recording and reinforcing nutrition, testing glucose, and managing diabetes. In addition, mobile phones are integral tools for delivering audio, text, and video messages including games that reinforce healthy behavior. Mobile phones are also increasingly becoming important internet access devices. There is a need to take the mobile health applications out of the research labs and deploy them into the community to support health care systems and help with digital inclusion. This approach to addressing the digital inclusion is based on the assumption that the digital divide is lower in cell phones than other areas of technology. Mobile phone applications could help community health workers provide early warning of disease, provide real time monitoring of conditions, reinforcing effective treatment, and reinforce healthier behavior in culturally appropriate ways .
The key to success is providing health applications for the cell phone that take into consideration, culture, language and ethnicity, and the applications must be developed in collaboration with the local community and health professionals.