mHealth Summit Update: Times Are Good for Mobile Health

Carl Weinschenk

The mHealth Summit was held last week in National Harbor, Md. That makes this a good time to step back and take a look at the big picture on the use of mobile communications to interface with patients.

The answer is that the growth appears to be rapid. The ability of smartphones, tablets and other devices to enable folks who formerly would be housed at medical facilities to stay in their own homes is one of the great benefits of modern technology — and one of which the pioneers should be extremely proud. Indeed, it may even be that they get better service by being at home and monitored remotely: A wireless device that sounds a warning to the patient’s health care facility is on guard every moment. A hospitalized patient is not watched that closely.

Patient monitoring is only one example of how mhealth helps healthy people stay that way and ill folks to heal. Examples of health care apps are not hard to come by. For instance, at mHealth, AT&T Labs said that it is working on a wireless sensor that assesses the air for compounds that can exacerbate asthma symptoms. If found, patients would be alerted — electronically, of course. The story at GigaOm provides details of the project, which is from the AT&T forHealth initiative.

The point is that though the technology and execution may be complex, the concepts — sniffing the air to see what may be a problem for asthma sufferers and letting them know if anything if found — is a no-brainer. Indeed, the point of a keynote by Aetna CEO Marc Bertolini and reported by PhysBizTech was that the advent of modern electronics makes patients more of a partner in their care than in the past, when the general populace were passive recipients. The company is planning CarePass, which will consolidate many of these tools:

The Aetna platform, which is currently available for PCs, offers 20 popular health and fitness apps to enable patients to manage and control their health and connect with their physicians with a secure single sign-on, according to Bertolini.

Doctors are scientists, however, so they need verification and validation of even the most self-evident issues. In a commentary at UN Dispatch, Managing Editor Mark Leon Goldberg quoted Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, in saying that there are “surprisingly few” studies that have really tested mobile health applications and, perhaps more surprisingly, those that have in some cases didn’t all show statistical benefits.

Regardless of what the official studies say or don’t say, it is clear that mobile health applications are a boon to patients and the health care system on virtually every level.



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