The Rise of mHealth: 10 Trends

In an era of digitization, healthcare has a stronghold on harnessing innovation and connectivity to advance the field. Healthcare providers are finding ways to utilize smartphones, mobile devices, cyber networks and interconnectivity to enhance patient care and care quality.

Here are 10 trends in the mHealth market.

1. Through mHealth, patients are encouraged to be actively involved in their own health. Patient engagement and consumer knowledge of the healthcare industry is critical to ensuring proper healthcare decisions and improving population health. With the rise of mobile apps, data collection and symptom monitoring that was once done in an examination room are now occurring in patients' pockets. Developers are creating apps and wearable sensors that can wirelessly measure heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature, as well as apps to help consumers make better health choices. With over 100,000 mHealth apps on the market, consumers are tracking their overall health and fitness and becoming engaged and active participants in monitoring and managing health. Over the past year, the use of mHealth and fitness apps grew 87 percent faster than the overall app industry, and researchers expect this trend to continue to grow.

2. Through mobile devices, clinicians have the ability to access what they need, when they need it. Whether a clinician is at the point of care and is double-checking evidence-based clinical guidelines or receives an update on a patient's labs on a different floor and needs to check the patient's electronic health record, mHealth offers them an avenue to instantly receive that information. Like consumers, clinicians are increasing the rate at which they are adopting mHealth tools and apps. More than half of clinicians — 53 percent — use a tablet to access electronic health records, take notes or send e-prescriptions, and nearly half — 48 percent — use smartphones to search for information.

3. With increased communication and data sharing through mHealth platforms, HIPAA is becoming more of a security concern for healthcare organizations. According to a KLAS survey, the use of personal mobile devices in healthcare settings is providers' second biggest concern with data security. The use of mobile devices increases security risks, calling into question issues surrounding encryption, authorized access and mobile security. Mobile devices aren't equipped with the same encryption capabilities as computers, and some clinicians are using personal phones for work-related purposes. A study in Telemedicine and e-Health found nearly 60 percent of pediatric hospitalists sent or received work-related text messages on their personal smartphones, and 30 percent even indicated receiving PHI in a text message. However, only 11 percent said their institutions offer encryption software for text messaging.

Additionally, app developers have the added challenge to ensure their products are HIPAA-compliant, and providers are overly cautious of apps that are out of line with the privacy law. There is a newfound focus on HIPAA, and it is going to continue to be scrutinized as app developers, providers and patients determine what innovations are permissible.

4. Growing consumer demand for mHealth is drawing major technology companies into the market. Apple, Google and Samsung have all recently introduced mobile platforms to aggregate user data from other apps and wearables into a comprehensive platform. By partnering with Mayo Clinic and Epic for its HealthKit platform, Apple is especially poised to disrupt the mHealth market.

5. Google Glass is paving the way for interactive mHealth applications. Google Glass has become a pioneer in the mHealth sphere. Apps developed for the device enable wearers to participate in telemedicine consultations, enhance medical students' education by live-streaming a procedure and allow the wearer to see an EHR while at the point of care. Though it offers a diverse portfolio of applications, it is one such mHealth development causing providers to take a second look at HIPAA and determine what is allowed while still protecting all necessary health information. Additionally, its hefty price tag — $1,500 — may prevent consumers from taking advantage of the patient-facing applications.

6. So-called 'digital omnivores' are becoming more prevalent, solidifying the place of mHealth in the healthcare industry. Epocrates, an athenahealth service, remains optimistic about the growth of the mHealth sector as evidenced by the rise of the digital omnivore — a clinician regularly using the digital trifecta in the healthcare setting: tablet, smartphone and computer. While the presence of digital omnivores slightly dipped from 47 percent in 2013 to 41 percent in 2014, Epocrates projects the population to rise to 74 percent in 2015.

7. Mobile health startups are gaining momentum, achieving record-breaking investment figures. So far in 2014, venture capitalists have invested more than $2 billion in digital health start-ups, the largest sum to date. In just the first quarter of 2014, digital health funding reached $700 million, an 87 percent year-over-year growth over the same quarter in 2013. According to a Mercom Capital report, the majority of investments for consumer-facing companies went to those involved with mHealth, approximately $198 million in 61 deals.

8. Mobile devices and apps are becoming an integral part of telemedicine. Telemedicine crosses the geographic expanse and connects providers to patients, even providers to other providers, to extend services to underserved areas. Many major telemedicine companies are offering telemedicine apps as a means for patients to connect and communicate with physicians remotely and on-the-go. It's an increasingly popular service — 84 percent of young adults age 18 to 34 said they would prefer a consultation via a mobile device.While more hospitals and health systems are toying with telemedicine, the service is also coming under fire as the industry debates payment and reimbursement practices and what telehealth services should be used for.

9. The cost benefits of mHealth may be enormous. If a patient is tracking his or her symptoms and those symptoms are being wirelessly transmitted to a clinician in the hospital, that patient just saved a trip to the clinic and the hospital saved costs associated with treating that patient. Point-of-care clinical apps can guide a physician to appropriate diagnosis and treatment decisions, helping to prevent adverse events that end up costing the healthcare system more money. With mHealth comes a more comprehensive, accessible and data-driven industry that helps utilize resources more efficiently and effectively.

10. mHealth achieves healthcare's triple aim. The healthcare industry is taking great strides to achieve the idealized healthcare triple aim, and mHealth is right in line with its goals. As previously mentioned, mHealth can help cut healthcare utilization, thereby reducing healthcare-associated costs. Patients want mHealth and they want the accessibility of their medical information and health tracking with them wherever they go. Being more engaged and informed consumers will also help cut healthcare costs as patients may be less likely to over-utilize resources. Finally, all the data collected through mHealth apps and the insights they provide could be the key to improving population health, let alone the individual improvements people are making by tracking their own overall health. The digitization and connectivity of the modern world presents an abundance of opportunities to advance the industry, and mHealth is taking advantage.

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