The next generation of healthcare is mobile – So why is it so static?

Matt HuntCan mobile technology really improve our health? Matt Hunt of Apadmi and Dr. Farid Khan of eLucid mHealth argue that the public could not only get better health management but a better healthcare service with greater adoption of mobile technology.

Mobile is dominant. Our lives are becoming increasingly interlinked with mobile devices. We can now bank, shop, watch TV, access council services and log-in to social media all from our mobile devices. Every day it seems like another facet of our lives becomes connected, or manageable, from our mobile.

However one area of our lives, arguably the most important, remains relatively disconnected from the mobile world: our health. There is already a flurry of tech companies developing hardware and solutions that will change the face of modern day medicine. So much so that earlier this year the European Commission estimated that €99bn in healthcare costs could be saved across the EU through the use of mobile technologies and solutions.

The potential of mobile for health

The developed world, with ageing populations, chronic diseases and illnesses borne from unhealthy lifestyles, is creating a massive health overhead – and mobile offers a solution. Through the use of mobile apps and wearables, for example, individuals can take greater responsibility for monitoring their own health, offering them flexibility and also the ability to manage their treatment and take preventative measures while simultaneously reducing the burden on the public health system.

Interestingly there are a plethora of mobile health apps and gadgets available to the public. From apps that encourage exercise via virtualisation of movement and ones that provide a virtualised doctor consultation to gadgets that monitor and improve sleep or monitor pulse, heart and respiratory performance. Worryingly however very few of these are approved or provided by the NHS.

In comparison mobile has revolutionised healthcare in the developing world with fast uptake of a wide range of solutions, many aimed at getting the best possible outcome in acute life or death situations. The need for affordable, quickly implemented solutions that work in remote locations and maximise limited resources are fuelling uptake. Remote diagnostics using technology such as image recognition, ‘dip-stick’ testing and video consultation are already enabling better outcomes for third world problems such as HIV, malaria and TB.

Why is mobile being held back?

Whilst there has been some adoption of mobile technology, it has mainly been driven by consumer uptake, rather than being integrated into, and provided by, the health service.  Developed countries have more money to spend on utilising mobile, however they also have established systems and procedures that make the adoption of any new solutions a lengthy and bureaucratic process.

Spending restrictions, a risk-averse nature to change and old school procurement frameworks are putting the brakes on getting innovative and life changing technology into the hands of health practitioners and the public.

The tipping point

So what will the tipping point be in getting mHealth technologies through the doors of public health care organisations? The opportunity costs are already significant when you consider the savings that can be made in terms of early diagnosis and the monitoring and management of chronic diseases.

However public authorities are generally secondary or tertiary adopters of technology; they want complete market validation and this takes years within healthcare environments, by which time the cost of not implementing the solution is high and the technology has often moved on – so the process starts again.

The scale of financial return, coupled with better patient experiences and health benefits must, at some point soon override the barriers to health organisations changing their approach to sourcing and adopting mHealth technology. Why not start the ball rolling by asking your doctor which apps they recommend for achieving and managing a healthy lifestyle?

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