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m-Health : Healthcare Platform for the future

A few days back, we all heard the news of a surgeon using I-pad during a surgery (here's the link - while this news must have made waves wide across, this wasn't the least bit surprising for me. Simply because, to me, this was a trend long overdue. As far as I am concerned, we are just behind the curve when it comes to adaptation of Healthcare on the Mobile platform. And when we do catch up, the mobile platform has the potential to completely transform the way health care is delivered.The single most important reason, why the mobile platform has transformational potential its ubiquity - mobile penetrations levels have grown exponentially over the past decade, not just in the developed world, but in third world countries as well.

Mobile health, or mhealth - is definitely not a new concept, and over the past 5 - 6 years, we have seen a lot of demonstrations and pilots, many showing promising results in terms of healthcare access, potential to drive down costs and deliver better outcomes. These demonstrations have been mostly around education, diagnostic and treatment support, communications, remote monitoring and remote data collection.

The biggest advantage of the mobile platform, as mentioned above, is its ubiquity. Mobile is one device no one would want to be found without. In fact, these days - it has gone much beyond just having a mobile - what with the dearth of devices ranging from smart phone, PDAs to internet tablets with phone capabilities. This yields perfectly to the concept of  anytime anywhere health-care, be it for the patient or the provider. For instance, physicians can remain in touch with their patients, even when they are out of office. Lets say a patient calls the physician for some advice when the physician doesn't have access to his computer, the physician could potentially still look up the patient record through his mobile device and advise the patient over the phone. Another advantage with the mobile platform - more so, these days - would be the wide range of different channels for delivery within a single platform. Mobile platforms offers different channels for outreach - the core voice and SMS channels, e mail as well as the mobile internet. Each of these channels can be effectively utilized for various purposes like communication and outreach. Other advantages would be the availability of other channels on the same platform - like banking etc., which are increasingly getting linked to health-care (with the rise of consumerism), as well as increased context sensitivity (with value add - services like GPS etc.,).All these advantages would do wonders to parameters like health - care access and availability. In addition, mhealth also has significant potential to reduce cost of healthcare delivery - with concepts like mobile telehealth (telemonitoring and teleconsultations).

There is a lot of action already happening in the mobile - health-care space with various applications and solutions being developed. Various stand alone applications targeted at patients are already available - these mainly focus on provision of specific and pertinent information, medication compliance, reminders, health - status trackers etc., These applications, are becoming increasingly relevant, with more and more remote monitoring devices entering the market. It is very common place to find people with devices like BP monitors, pulse oximeters etc., these days. Many of these applications are available at a very low cost or even free - the one aspect which goes missing very often is the credibility aspect, particularly with stand alone applications based on information. With medical sciences evolving everyday, being uptodate and credible - presents a constantly moving target to the development community, the problem compounds more due to the fact that most of these stand alone application are developed mostly by individuals or small groups of developers.On the other end, the physician end, there are  applications for charge capture, note taking, e prescriptions, decision support (ex. epocrates Rx) and access to medical literature. Apart from these stand alone applications, many practice management platforms have also come up with mobile platforms.  Also - solutions have been developed using the mobile platform for hospitals. The potential for transformation is the highest for hospitals - where constantly access to information, communications and other road blocks often lead to sub optimal quality of care, adverse impact on quality outcomes. There are now solutions (for instance-Voalte) in the market - which address most of these problems - communications (physician to nurse, nurse to nurse etc.,), information access (access to the hospital networks, access to patient records, access to information sources on the internet etc.,) apart from quality (monitoring). Some of these solutions, leverage the existing infrastructure (like wireless networks etc.,) already existing in the hospitals.

As far as the platforms for mhealth are concerned, Apple's I phone has gained wide acceptance when it comes to smart phones.The RIM platform with its trademark Blackberry phone still holds sway over the business users. These two platforms would be obviously be the most important for health-care, as with any other m-commerce applications or services. Plenty of stand alone applications are already available - for the apple i- phone (check  - Microsoft windows mobile devices, also have a relatively smaller but significant presence, with their biggest advantage of seamlessly being able to integrate with the laptops - most of which run on the windows - OS. Another platform which could be seen gaining a lot of traction in the market - would be the Android platform. Android does expose a lot of its APIs - which may lead to more development action for this platform and corresponding more applications.

There are still a lot of hurdles to be overcome, before mobile health can take off in a big way. Some of the biggest challenges - would be issues related to security, privacy and confidentiality. Establishing this will be a key priority for mobile platforms. Another aspect - would be that of integration. Unless different applications are seamless integrated to the patient records, the real power of mobile healthcare will never be tapped. It would be good to have an application that records BP, blood sugar etc., and does trending and alerts the patient when it suspects something is wrong. But the complete potential can only be realized if the application were able to push the information onto the patient's health record and make it available to the physician, in the next patient visit. Also - more sophisticated solutions will need to be developed, to completely exploit the potential of the mobile platform - like channel optimization etc., For instance, if an outbound message needed to be sent to the patient- the most optimum channel should be used, based on the patient's usage history. If the patient has been found most responsive to voice calls, that channel can be used. There are also wider and more far reaching implications on the broader healthcare delivery land scape - when mobile platforms will enable remote patient monitoring and remote consultations - these concepts have the potential to bring down health-care costs significantly.

This post first appeared on Through The Looking Glass...., please read the originial post: here

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m-Health : Healthcare Platform for the future


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