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mHealth’s Golden Opportunity: Disease Management

December 7, 2012
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mHealth and disease management could be a perfect match

Much of the world of health IT was squarely focused this week on the mHealth Summit event in Washington D.C. The growing event, in its fourth year, has seen its exhibit hall grow by 50 percent from the prior year and overall attendance has spiked considerably as well. If anything represents the mounting influence mHealth will have on the industry, it’s the fact that the summit has become such a notable event so fast. The event has even gone global.

The opportunities certainly abound in mHealth. I’m reminded on a monthly basis, with report after report after report predicting as much. And while within this wealth of opportunities we could point to a number of possibilities where mHealth can improve clinical care and people’s health, I’d like to focus on one area in particular – chronic disease management.

This idea, which has been floated about and reported on through numerous studies, piqued my interest after I sit in on a recent interesting webinar presented by Prasanna Vadhana Kannan, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan. Kannan focused on diabetes and cardiac disease management, saying thanks to a variety of factors, there has never been a better opportunity for mHealth applications to change the way chronic diseases are treated.

Let’s start at the top. Kannan says because of an aging population, a limited healthcare workforce, and an often inadequate amount of financial resources in provider settings to support health IT technologies, the industry is in a potentially dire situation in the coming years. What’s that saying about a creek and a paddle? Ah, never mind.

So where does mHealth fit in? Well, it’s cost-effective, it’s quick, and thanks to the increasing power of cellular networks, it’s more plausible than ever. There are naturally various challenges such as security, lack of personnel training, and competing priorities, which Kannan addressed. But when you consider that various clinical measures, such as glucose analysis, respiratory parameters, blood pressure, etc., can be tracked remotely and cheaply, and then sent to an EHR in real-time thanks to an abundance of on-the-market devices, it’s hard to not see the possibilities.

The opportunity for mHealth, according to Kannan, is even more exciting when it you factor in smartphone integration. While there are plenty of other possibilities for smartphone-based mHealth apps, we’ll stick with disease management. As these devices mature to include low-cost sensors and continue to rise in popularity, there is an opportunity for clinicians to track important clinical measures of even the most underserved patients, in areas where chronic disease is often a huge problem.

This was analyzed in one of the aforementioned studies, conducted by the eHealth Initiative (eHI). "Research shows that the majority of patients, including those who are disadvantaged, have access to a mobile device or smartphone. These patients have tools at their fingertips to help manage their diabetes more effectively," Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO of eHI, said in a statement.

Diabetes and cardiac management were the specific focus of Kannan’s webinar and she mentioned a few specific innovators for both areas. WellDoc, one of the companies touted by Kannan, has done research of its own attempting to show how mHealth could bolster diabetes management

(It’s worth noting Kannan mentioned Asthmapolis, a company which our own David Raths has covered previously.)

While WellDoc and a few others have been looking at the potential of this area for a while, it’s clear from listening to Kannan and seeing some early studies, that the industry is truly ripe for this kind of innovation. It will be interesting to see if chronic disease management can go mobile and realize its potential.

I’m interested in reading your comments below or on Twitter @HCI_GPerna.