mHealth, or mobile health, is “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services and health research.” The field is poised to grow significantly in the next few years, especially since mobile devices are becoming faster and more efficient than ever. It’s worth looking into, especially if you’re interested in the ways in which mobile technology and healthcare are going to working together in the future.
Who is using mHealth right now?
Short answer: lots of people in the healthcare industry — everyone from physicians to pharmacists.
Long answer: anyone who has an interest in using mobile to more efficiently take care of patients, track patient data and obtain health information through the use of wireless devices.
How is it being used?
mHealth is applicable in a variety of situations, particularly those involving the point-of-care, or interactions with patients.
Healthcare professionals, or HCPs, are using apps to:
- manage healthcare information and their time
- maintain and access health records
- communicate and consult with other HCPs
- obtain reference materials and gather information
- manage and monitor patient treatments
- make decisions in a clinical setting
- stay up-to-date on medical practices through education and training efforts
What do HCPs need when they’re using mHealth technologies?
Since HCPs are working in fast-paced environments and need information quickly, they need mHealth technologies that serve a multitude of purposes:
- Communication — It’s important for HCPs to be able to video conference, make voice calls, text and email from their mobile devices.
- Hospital Information Systems — HCPs need access to electronic health and medical records, clinical decision support systems, picture archiving and communication systems, and laboratory information systems in order to stay up-to-date on happenings at any given hospital
- Informational resources — In addition to staying abreast of hospital happenings, HCPs are constantly learning and working. They need access to textbooks, guidelines, medical literature and drug references in order to brush up on knowledge and to continue learning about the medical field
- Clinical software applications — mHealth can provide disease diagnosis aids and medical calculators that serve as resources when HCPs are working with patients.
That sounds great. Are there any challenges ahead?
A couple. The first is rather obvious: mobile devices can be expensive, especially if an entire medical organization, such as a hospital, needs to be equipped. According to a 2012 survey conducted by KLAS research, 86 percent of CIOs, IT specialists and physicians surveyed were working under some sort of BYOD, or bring your own device, policy. 31 percent of those respondents were working under a full BYOD policy, suggesting that different healthcare institutions are finding different ways to respond to this challenge. The report went on to find that 52 percent of providers used virtualization, 46 percent used encryption, and 35 percent used mobile device management.
Why is that last bit important?
This brings up the second challenge faced by individuals interested in mHealth: HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, HIPAA was designed to protect patient privacy by giving patients access to their medical records and control over how those records are used. It’s a great aim, but in order for mHealth to be HIPAA compliant, mobile health technologies have to go through another hurdle.
Take cloud-based storage systems like Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. Of the three, Box is reportedly compliant with HIPAA and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Google Drive can be made HIPAA-compliant under certain system settings. A system that isn’t compliant, such as Dropbox, can’t be used in a medical setting if HCPs want to use mHealth to store or share patient information with other HCPs.
Is there anything else?
There’s much more: mHealth is an increasingly important subject, and we’re interested in learning more ourselves. Over the next two months, we’ll be delving deeper into mHealth and looking at subjects including HIPAA compliance, the mobile devices most in use today, future mHealth trends and new care models. Make sure to keep an eye out!