In fifty years’ time, I believe that we will consider the rise of mobile technology to be one of the greatest medical advances the world has ever seen.
Armed with the newest devices and technologies, patients will enjoy better health outcomes, doctors and medical professionals will be more effective and efficient, costs for payers and governments will be slashed and populations will – for the most part – be more health conscious.
Indeed, by coupling the power of mobile devices with rapidly-maturing technologies such as cloud, health systems around the world are starting to awaken to an entirely new way of delivering health services.
Of course, this revolution in healthcare will come, not simply by virtue of the mobile devices themselves, but rather by unlocking new approaches to delivering health services. Gone will be the constraint of physical location and – with it – the hard costs of maintaining costly facilities such as hospitals. Instead, care will be moved out into the home, office or primary care environment; whichever location best suits the patient and their circumstances.
Yet as the hospital fades away as the epicenter of health service delivery, patients will find that – somewhat counter intuitively perhaps – access to medical professionals and services will actually increase. Mobile devices will allow specialists from halfway around the world to consult with patients, review test results and design treatment plans. Remote monitoring devices will essentially bring nursing and diagnostic staff right into the patients’ home. And when patients do need to use location-based health services, mobile applications will help them find the closest and most appropriate care at just the touch of a button.
While the benefits of mobile within healthcare are clear, the path to mHealth is far more complicated. In part, the challenge is institutional: most health service delivery is designed with providers in mind rather than patients. And, as such, care tends to be fractured and incongruous which, in turn, leads to higher costs and sub-optimal patient outcomes.
Mobile holds the promise to change all of that. Using mobile devices and enabling technologies, providers will be able to access a shared and holistic view of the patient, thereby speeding up the care process and eliminating the potential for errors or interactions. Mobile devices will enable medical professionals and caregivers to collaborate and work together to design better treatment options tailored to the needs of each patient. And, ultimately, mobile will usher in an era of integrated care where providers work as a single team to deliver better health outcomes for their patients.
Evidence of this evolution is all around. Attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 will have seen an explosion of health-related organizations demonstrating new mobile solutions. Delegates from United Healthcare, one of the largest health benefits providers in the US, talked up their partnerships with some of the world’s top mobile gaming developers, while the CEO of Verizon stole the show with a keynote presentation on the telecom giant’s move towards creating a healthcare cloud.
A range of new smartphone-enabled devices are also now starting to emerge. AliveCor – a San Francisco-based company – has developed an iPhone case that acts as an ECG; MobiSante (also based in the US) offers an FDA-approved, smartphone-based ultrasound device; Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical company, sells an iPhone-enabled blood glucose monitoring device.
At the same time, we have seen the market start to heat up with major health providers and payers snapping up mobile technology solutions that hold the promise to increase efficiency, enhance patient outcomes or create a better customer experience. Just over a year ago, Aetna – another large US payer – purchased Healthagen, a mobile health startup and the developer of the popular health app iTriage (a mobile app that allows patients to not only understand their symptoms but also identify a nearby provider based on wait times, patient feedback and effectiveness ratings). Aetna has been aggressively expanding its reach and coverage ever since.
More progress will need to be made before mHealth can truly become a new model for health delivery. Applications and mobile services will need to mature beyond simply replicating web services or dishing up static information. Device price points and functionality will need to improve (particularly for more specialized mobile devices such as ultrasounds). Cloud providers – both public and private – will need to hone their service offerings towards the unique needs of the health sector. And, throughout, health providers will need to maximize innovation and rethink business models to ensure they are making the most of these new approaches.
What is clear is that mobile technologies and devices are catalyzing a transformation in the way that modern healthcare is delivered to such an extent that – fifty years from now – doctor’s offices and hospitals may be nothing more than a quaint memory of a bygone era.
By Ashraf Shehata, Global Center of Excellence Healthcare, KPMG in the US