Recently, a client asked me what I meant by “mHealth is likely the newest front door to his organization.” He seemed even more puzzled by my next statement; “…and you should probably have an ‘open-door’ policy.” After a few minutes of conversation I quickly realized that his perception of mobile health was far less encompassing than mine. As for the ‘open-door policy,’ what better way to be transparent, welcoming and trusted than providing patients/consumers with fresh, relevant content, when and where they want?
That particular conversation spurned me to look deeper at the notion of mHealth. Let’s take a look at some mHealth stats, how mHealth relates to mobile capabilities of other industries, and proof that patients/consumers are poised to look at providers who leverage the technology.
Polling 100 people on the definition of ‘mobile health’ would result in nearly the same number of unique responses. Regardless of the exact definition or nomenclature used to describe mobile health/ ‘mHealth,’ one indisputable fact is that it has come-of-age. One could argue that for hospitals and health systems, mHealth is the newest front door to your organization and is likely the easiest means of staying relevant in the age of consumerization, whereby patients are participants in their health and wellness and have many alternatives for care readily accessible.
The existing smartphone resides at mHealth’s core where the top ten of the 100,000-plus available health apps see 4 million free and 300,000 paid downloads per day. Helping to fuel this growth is the fact that the wearable medical device industry is growing at Compound Annual Growth Rate of 16.4 percent and is expected to reach $5.8 billion in 2019. As consumers gobble up hundreds of thousands of mobile medical apps, developers continue to feed their appetite and have advanced from simple data consumption portals to truly interactive applications that leverage data from wearable medical devices. Many of these devices and apps engage users in virtual wellness communities that are collaborative and in some cases competitive, albeit in a friendly pat-on-the-back sort of way; which is exactly the sort of continual interaction that healthcare providers should look to leverage in order to stay top-of-mind with patients.
Compelling fundamentals and investment opportunity – growing consumer demand coupled by the fact that three-quarters of healthcare organizations identify mobile device strategy as a top priority and 90 percent of physicians believe patients would benefit from mobile services – are pulling private and institutional capital into the sector, attracting start-up and tech-giant focus. As a result, the global mHealth market is poised for compound annual growth of 30.5 percent, reaching $23.5B in 2018. With all these resources pouring into the space, a few firms are pushing the boundaries of innovation. Some application developers have completely revolutionized the mHealth experience, allowing patients/consumers to enjoy their first taste of augmented reality in the mobile health arena.
While there are plenty of mobile app development firms churning out applications, advanced provider organizations like Cleveland Clinic and Boston Children’s are developing apps as well. However, to make the increasingly popular arena of mHealth adoptable on a large scale, our entire industry will have to navigate mHealth’s biggest challenge: privacy and security of data transmission.
Lessons from the finance industry can be leveraged as mobile finance apps like Mint.com, Level Money, Billguard and dozens more aggregate sensitive data from various financial accounts for millions of users. These apps empower users to manage their financial life by providing a comprehensive view, offering goal-setting capabilities, performing real-time analysis of behavior against goals, and suggesting ideal courses of action. From a macro level, data collected by these apps can be mined to provide insight on consumer behavior, which Mint.com did to gauge the nation’s financial recovery after the recession.
The future of mHealth will consist of apps that aggregate and analyze data from various sources in real-time, much like those that currently exist in the Finance industry. However, new health apps will be more complicated and dynamic as they integrate personal health information with data collected from a growing number of wearable/remote devices to provide a quantified self and behavioral suggestions.
mHealth will take its aggregated information a step further and leverage mobile devices to transmit patient data to providers and facilitate e-visits, advancing personalized and preventative care through real-time clinical analysis, and reducing industry costs by limiting the number of on-site visits. Additionally, the growing pool of mHealth data can be used in aggregate (much like in Mint.com’s macro study) to advance the understanding of clinical influence and patient behavior outside the four walls of providers – a holy grail in Healthcare that can be leveraged to increase quality and sustainable care.
So what does this mean for provider organizations? Two things: 1) patients as consumers are utilizing mHealth apps and as a provider, 2) a solid mHealth platform is a positive differentiator… for now. However, in a few years time, it will likely be a must to stay relevant.