mHealth and 4G: Deloitte’s Harry Greenspun Sees Infinite Opportunities

April 16, 2012
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Part 1 of two-part interview series on the opportunities and challenges in mHealth
mHealth

For most industry observers, mobile offers an infinite opportunity in healthcare, one that’s probably impossible to quantify. However, research firm Deloitte (New York) has recently tried to do just that. According to a report from Deloitte titled “Open Mobile: the growth area accelerates,”the mobile health (mHealth) market is projected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2014. More than any other area, including retail, financial services, and automotive, healthcare and life sciences has the greatest potential for 4G mobile growth, according to the report.

What makes this even more impressive is that already there are numerous health-related apps on the market. The apps, ranging from diabetes tracking to nutrition and fitness guidance, cover a wide-spectrum of healthcare related topics. Furthermore, with mounting regulatory mandates and the healthcare industry evolving towards an evidence-based care environment, the report’s authors note there are apps in use, for instance, which can help facilitate the cutting down of readmissions through analytics.

When you combine the potential of 4G with what already exists, it’s clear the mHealth industry will help revolutionize healthcare in the coming years. However, there are still a lot of hurdles to be faced if the industry is to realize the possibilities. HCI Assistant Editor Gabriel Perna recently interviewed Deloitte’s senior advisor for health care transformation and technology, Harry Greenspun, M.D., to talk about the report, as well as the opportunities and challenges in mHealth, and where the industry is headed.

This extensive interview with Dr. Greenspun will run in two parts, with part 1 covering healthcare’s general mobile appeal, the possibilities and problems with 4G, and where regulatory factors play in.  Below are excerpts from the interview.

Harry Greenspun, M.D.

There are an unthinkable amount of mHealth apps out there today, and in the report Deloitte said healthcare had the most potential for 4G – quite simply, what makes this sector so appealing for mobile developers?  

The first reason is that healthcare has lagged behind other industries in the adoption of information technology, so whereas we are used to using our phones for ordering movies and pizza, and tracking flights and everything else, there has been relatively little use of apps for what I call ‘mainstream healthcare.’ Granted, there are a lot of fitness-type apps. There are a lot of healthcare apps that people can use for themselves, but not as many that can connect to healthcare delivery.  

The second part is that we are now entering an era where as we move from paying providers for the volume as opposed to paying for the value they deliver, suddenly these kinds of apps begin to make sense economically, in terms of reimbursement. If there are things that are more engaging, increase compliance, direct people to make better health choices, and connect them better and more efficiently to their providers and their overall health and wellness, the providers are going to be reimbursed for that. There’s now an alignment that wasn’t there before.

An easy example, there are good applications for managing diabetes, tracking your blood sugar. They generally aren’t tied into your lab work, so it’s hard to tie much in the way of analytics to see what’s effective. There hasn’t been an incentive to do that in the past, now there is.

How does 4G change the game for mHealth?

It does a couple of things, some good, some not as good. The good thing is it really enables much more information to be available on your device. If you remember the days of the 14.4K modem, the internet moved into higher speeds, which led to the availability of more graphical websites, streaming video, etc.  To have high-speed access to lots of data is an amazing thing, from high-res images to high-res video teleconferencing, on and on.

The problem with 4G devices is throughout large parts of this country there is no connectivity and no access to any sort of broadband. When you are reliant on connectivity for medical care, an important aspect of that is where is that available, or is it not available where you are. Are you creating a device in certain areas that becomes unworkable or is unavailable to large segments of the population? So the concern is you create this healthcare digital divide. If the apps keep pushing the limits of connectivity, the availability of broadband will become a limiting factor.

Even in hospitals, you move into the wrong part of the hospital and you lose your connection. So if you are dependent on 4G, high-speed connections, it raises concerns about how that information is delivered if you can’t access it.  

Where do regulatory factors, such as cutting down preventable readmissions, play into the growth of mHealth?’

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