Mobile Health Presents Life-Changing Opportunities

From medication reminders to wearable body sensors, mobile health solutions will become a vital part of our lives and many organizations' services.
Eric Openshaw
Eric Openshaw
Almost every day we find more ways to use smartphones to stay in touch, find places, play games, and compare and pay for products. Yet within three to five years, other phone uses will be more life changing for many of us. Our health may literally be in our hands. Plus, more CIOs will become involved in what appears to be the next great mobile revenue growth opportunity: mobile health.

Those are some of the findings from our recent Open Mobile survey of 250 senior mobile technology executives. Several factors make this conclusion obvious. Mobile technology lets patients and wellness-minded individuals stay in closer, better, and less-expensive contact with the right medical professionals or with remote monitoring systems. From medication reminders to wearable body sensors that let caregivers provide more rapid, accurate diagnoses and responses, mobile health solutions will become a more vital part of our lives and the service of many organizations. Adoption of mobile health technologies may match the impact of electronic health record (EHR) adoption, and it may happen faster, especially if there's proactive collaboration among healthcare, telecom, and application providers.

Consider this one expensive, growing healthcare problem as an example of the size of the opportunity. About one out of every two adults has at least one chronic illness. Chronic disease management accounts for more than 80% of total healthcare expenditures. Chronic conditions cause seven out of 10 deaths in the United States. The top three--cancer, post-stroke cerebrovascular disease, and heart disease--account for more than half of all deaths.

[ Mobility has produced sweeping changes in how we work, live, and play. Read Don't Be Late For The Mobile Revolution. ]

Early studies show that remote patient monitoring of such conditions can save lives and lower costs. One remote patient monitoring pilot for congestive heart failure (CHF) showed just a 6% hospital readmission rate, compared with the U.S. national average of 47%. This represents a huge benefit, considering that CHF accounts for 27% of Medicare patients who are back in the hospital within 30 days. Other mobile health pilot studies showed a 72% reduction in the average number of emergency department visits, and a 65% reduction in overall hospital admissions.

Other factors are accelerating adoption of mobile and wireless solutions. Healthcare costs are higher in the United States than in any other developed nation, hurting individuals, the industry, and employers that provide coverage. Seniors and boomers are requiring greater care, yet there's already a chronic shortage of physicians, especially in specialist areas such as geriatrics.

In the meantime, more and more people are making mobile phones and tablets a part of their everyday lives. When we asked American consumers of all ages in our recent survey whether they'd like self-monitoring devices that remotely send information to their doctors, 61% said they would. When we asked if they wanted to use PDAs or smartphones to access their medical records and other health information, their preferences varied by age. Only 27% of seniors are interested, yet 72% of the Gen Y generation (born 1981 to 1993) are very likely or somewhat inclined to want that opportunity.

As more people turn to one another and to online sites for medical information, they become more informed and proactive. They also become accustomed to mobile ubiquity for prevention and treatment options. Expect to see more customized applications for appointment scheduling, health alerts, feedback, and treatment comparisons. Recent examples include:

-- Discharged patients using mobile devices to view their care plans and see lab results;

-- Pregnant women using mobile phones to get customized obstetrics information from their providers; and

-- Recovering drug addicts using their smartphones or tablets to talk with peers in times of greatest vulnerability, mark their progress, or contact a treatment center.

Analysts forecast this market to reach about $4.6 billion as early as 2014. Some forward-thinking medical and life sciences organizations are already forging alliances. The Open mHealth consortium, for example, is creating an ecosystem to advance technology. Continua Health Alliance is working on interoperable solutions. As such collaborations spur faster innovation, more players will get involved in either creating and selling platforms or mandating the better-care/lower-cost healthcare standard that such solutions can provide.

Yet mobile health innovation can't scale until two hurdles are overcome.

First, more and larger trials must be conducted to evaluate the level of improved care and cost savings. The global experiments supported by the mHealth Alliance and others may hasten that study.

Second, the diverse players in the field--especially healthcare organizations, telecom providers, and app developers--must work together on legal and regulatory mandates and restrictions, system integration, and patient-centered research to bring costs down.

As more players become convinced of the efficiencies mobile health can bring, the market will grow faster and prices will fall. It's not a matter of if, but when.

What mobile health solutions have you been following or are involved in providing? Please let us know in the comments field below.

Eric Openshaw is vice chairman and U.S. technology, media & telecommunications leader for Deloitte LLP. Phil Asmundson is vice chairman and U.S. media & telecommunications leader for Deloitte LLP.

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