In addition to patient monitoring devices and other mobile telemedicine (providing health care from a distance) devices, these days, smart phones, and tablets play a major role in mobile health (mHealth). mHealth can be described as medical and public health that is supported by mobile devices. But what are the potential and actual roles of mHealth in the healthcare delivery process?
mHealth has the potential to play a role in all phases of the healthcare process: prevention, diagnosis, decision-making, treatment, and follow-up. Since it can support data collection, monitoring and new care models, mHealth can contribute to the creation of value if it is involved in the entire health care process.
The prevention phase can use mobile apps for promoting healthy habits by scheduling reminders, and for mLearning activities aimed at teaching people about diseases. In the diagnosis phase, mobile technology can help with remote access to patient information, but it can also help to carry out more complex processes like telediagnosis.
After the diagnosis has been made, the clinician has to make decisions, for example, are additional tests needed? Or does the patient’s condition require specific therapy? mHealth can be helpful in several ways for the decision-making phase; from automated mobile libraries with clinical descriptions of diseases, to the use of mobile technologies for shared decision making by health care professionals.
During treatment, mobile technology can be used to manage a patient’s symptoms/condition or to allow the patient to do this themselves (self-management), but it can also be helpful for treating patients at remote locations by means of tele-health and tele-surgery equipment.
After a patient has been treated, fundamental follow-up activities need to be put in place and these can be supported by mobile technology. For example, the real-time measuring of a patient’s vital signs, or achieving better and ongoing quality communication between patients and health care professionals. With these things in mind, mHealth has the potential to make a difference in terms of better quality of life, and more appropriate care, for the patient, and freeing up time for medical staff.
Whilst mHealth is mainly used via text messaging/SMS in less economically developed healthcare infrastructures, wealthier countries have found more of a role for mHealth in supporting activities of daily living, such as preparing food or eating/drinking. [While patients carry on with their usual daily activities, clinical data can still be collected.] In addition to smartphones and laptops, specialized health-related software applications are currently being developed, tested, and marketed for use in mHealth. Many of these technologies are developing primarily in high-income countries. Other examples include Sproutling’s Baby Monitor, Liftware, Netatmo’s June, and Spire. This contrast in technologies being used can be attributed to cost differences. Nowadays, cheap mobile phones are readily available. For example, in 2011 Huawei partnered with Safaricom to unveil an $80 Android phone. On the other hand, in higher income countries, some healthcare professionals are using a wireless video otoscope that cost almost $3,000. In addition to self-management activities carried out by patients, mHealth seems to assist physicians with deciding how and when to treat patients.
Different adaptations to mobile devices and remote monitoring devices will be very important for the improvement of mHealth in the future. In addition to text messaging/SMS, these are very important for Diabetes care (management of insulin dosages, control of blood sugar levels). With a reported 357 million people living with Diabetes, it is one of the major chronic diseases worldwide.
mHealth products (considered Diagnostic Medical Devices by European Commission) are part of the Medical Device Industry. The EU Regulatory Framework (which was revised) for this industry is very supportive of innovation, is SME’s friendly, and helps provide rapid access to the market. The promising and attractive nature of the framework has increased investments in European medical device SME’s from U.S. venture capitalists. This innovative aspect is very important, considering that the life cycle for development on average is 18 months, which is much shorter than pharmaceutical drugs (4-10 years). The relatively short time for getting a product on the market is encouraging for investors who are more likely to see a faster return on their investments, as the market looks promising.
This has spurred innovation and development in Europe, with Germany, France and UK being the main markets. The majority (about 95%) of these companies are SME’s. This can be seen as welcoming news for those looking to get involved in a biotech start-up company.