Healthcare in the United States is a $2.8 trillion industry that is only going to grow.
As consumer clamors for convenience and increased access continue, it is imperative that sustainable mHealth practices are used in order to make sure that the system does not collapse in on itself. Unexpected events in an industry so intimately acquainted with its consumers’ lives are not desirable.
Around 10 million Americans became insured following the Affordable Care Act. Consumers attracted to the ease and potential efficiency of mHealth technologies are taking a renewed interest in their healthcare and treatment. Patients are interested in being their own health advocates and working more closely with HCPs.
These trends underscore an important point: the healthcare industry is becoming a consumer-driven market. The growth of mHealth and other healthcare trends indicate that we are in the middle of a growing New Health Economy, in which older business models don’t necessarily apply.
Do-it-yourself healthcare engages patients more than ever before, as patients are given the keys to their own treatment plans, with fitness and health apps and trackers leading the way to increased patient advocacy.
However, the greater the patient control and engagement, the more information there is flowing between patient and provider.
Healthcare information is obviously valuable to patients and the HCPs working to treat patients effectively and accurately. Its also valuable for research purposes; as public health officials try to determine the prevalence of certain health problems and outcomes in society, they oftentimes conduct cross-sectional and cohort studies.
Patient data is an invaluable resource in these situations (only if the researcher has approval to use the data, of course), and can lead to new healthcare knowledge and improvements.
All that being said, the healthcare industry has a lot to keep up with. Here are some ways to make sure your mHealth enterprise stays around for the long haul:
Making it all Work Together
There is a preponderance of mHealth technologies in the market at the moment—apps, trackers, devices and programs. That number will grow as new device platforms such as the Apple Watch enter the marketplace. These devices—of which the Apple Watch is the most notable—have the ability to carry entire new app stores on their shoulders, suggesting that the number of mHealth technologies will increase rapidly in the years to come.
Regardless of how innovative and helpful these technologies can be, they’ll be rendered useless if they cannot work together.
No convenience-oriented consumer wants to switch between one interface and another just to get one more piece of information. mHealth technologies will “fade into obscurity unless they can exchange data with other devices and providers.”
Work and Learn from the People Around You
Partnerships should also be considered in conjunction with interoperability:
Collaboration with other mHealth organizations could go a long way to ensuring mHealth interoperability in the future, thereby furthering consumer convenience and usage. By partnering with companies and organizations from other sectors, mHealth providers can capitalize on other strengths while also furthering organizational goals. These partnerships would help ensure the sustainability and scalability of mHealth operations.
40 percent of the Fortune 50, for instance, formed new healthcare partnerships in 2014.
Consider, for instance, the complex world of healthcare regulations. mHealth apps and technologies need to be in compliance with federal regulations. This compliance is typically an exhaustive process. However, it is a process that the retail and financial industries do have experience with. mHealth providers can work with companies and individuals from those industries to learn effective strategies for navigating the waters of federal regulations.
As an added advantage, these industries have significant experience with the convenience-driven desires of consumers as well, making them a potential font of knowledge for a developing industry with no guidebook, per se.
Playing by the Rules
mHealth apps and products are most often created due to consumer and physician demand for mHealth products. Consequently, the companies making these products are digital health companies that don’t necessarily know as much about federal regulations.
The FDA’s mHealth review can be a costly and timely process made even more complex because the FDA’s definitions of mHealth and situations requiring regulation aren’t completely defined yet.
In 2014, 58 tech companies petitioned Congress to have the FDA implement a framework aimed at determining “when and how health IT companies should be regulated.” Should the regulatory framework become defined, getting FDA regulation approval might not be as gargantuan a feat.
However, it is possible that products could benefit from regulatory approval even in today’s more complicated landscape. Even if approval is not needed for a certain mHealth product, the FDA’s approval could give a product an air of legitimacy in a competitive space.
The FDA should be releasing more guidelines and information intended to help mHealth providers determine if regulation is necessary during 2015.
These guidelines will hopefully add clarity and definition to a rather murky area, making the pro/con distribution easier to go through. Companies will definitively know if regulation is a necessary or optional step, and if there are decided benefits to aiming for legitimacy in the FDA’s eyes.
Privacy vs Convenience
A Critical Balance
mHealth and cybersecurity initiatives need to accomplish a daunting task: storing data in a private, secure fashion while ensuring that it is accessible as well.
The consumers pushing for mHealth innovations are keen on having their cake and eating it too.
mHealth technologies that don’t give consumers one-click access to their health data and information in a timely fashion are seen as lacking. On the other hand, consumers remember data breaches for a long time too, and those breaches can only grow more costly.
Health information is particularly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats because the information is so valuable; health records touch on an individual’s personal history, financial status and medical information, making them a temptation to most data thieves. Since health records are so valuable, they are likely to be targeted often. According to PwC’s Global State of Information Security in 2015, almost 25% of companies experienced 50 or more security incidents. These numbers underscore the importance of secure data.
That said, alienating consumers with time-intensive security procedures is also not an appealing option.
Healthcare organizations and others interested in mHealth will have to position themselves in a learning capacity, looking to the financial and retail industries in order to learn how to best protect consumer data and keep that data accessible by consumers and HCPs.