By Rick Krohn, MA, MAS
The mHealth ecosystem is about extending access and remote connectivity within the industry. It’s about engagement among providers, with patients and consumers, with payers and employers, public health and social services—with every healthcare industry stakeholder. In both clinical and business applications, mHealth is aimed at the creation of a connected healthcare ecosystem through the integration of mobile communication, transactions and knowledge.
To perform efficiently, the mHealth ecosystem must be convenient, connected, coherent and cost-effective. The mHealth ecosystem is characterized by:
- innovation in care delivery,
- robust care teams and heightened clinical collaboration,
- an epidemiological health perspective (including population health, prevention and wellness),
- utilitarian technology solutions, and
Most importantly, it is about recasting the terms of healthcare delivery by placing the patient in the solid center.
Information is now portable, personalized, and participatory, making a patient-centric mHealth ecosystem—unbound by age, location or economic strata.
For the mHealth ecosystem to reach its fullest expression, it must define, attract and retain the customer. Consumers are mimicking the kind of digital convergence—the intersection of personal and professional applications via mobile—that is a growing feature of clinical workflow.
Once someone has a wireless device, that person is more likely to use the Internet to gather information, share information and create new content. These patterns are beginning to emerge in Americans’ pursuit of health information on mobile devices.
Wireless connections and devices are associated with deeper engagement in health-related social media. It’s not just young adults either that are driving the consumer movement toward mobile health. The “wireless pack” of healthcare consumers extends from 19 to 50 years old. These consumers are using their smartphones to manage weight, stop smoking, check vitals, get health tips—in sum, to keep personal health records.
It has been widely reported that mobile health is a leapfrog technology, providing a platform for the care of populations that possess established mobile networks, but a weak healthcare infrastructure. Conceptually, a simple cell phone removes access and distance as barriers to both routine and chronic care. That opportunity to improve outcomes for the underserved—poor, rural and minority populations—is staring at us right here at home.
At a baseline level, mHealth will become both an adjunct for, and a substitute to, the office visit by providing
- culturally appropriate health information,
- medication reminders,
- lifestyle advice, and
- bilateral doctor-patient communication.
In more advanced applications, mHealth solutions will serve as the conduit for patient treatments via remote patient management tools, self-care and telemedicine.
One of the most intriguing opportunities to fast-track an mHealth ecosystem exists in developing countries, where the infrastructure to support a fixed, wired healthcare industry simply doesn’t exist. Of the estimated 4 billion mobile devices in use around the world, 64 percent are in the hands of people living in emerging market economies.
Although the level of mobile technologies has not yet reached the sophistication of advanced nations, in developing economies, mHealth offers a far more cost-effective and achievable alternative to establish an integrated, collaborative healthcare finance and delivery ecosystem.
Though the analogy of mHealth’s impact in the developed world doesn’t directly translate to the domestic healthcare landscape, we can “reverse engineer” mobile healthcare successes elsewhere in the world to boost outcomes for our most vulnerable populations, and weave these proven technology solutions into our domestic mHealth ecosystem.
It’s going to take a wholesale restructuring of healthcare delivery to achieve a mHealth ecosystem. That includes culture change in the part of payers, providers and patients, a new definition of clinical “value” based on mass personalization of the care experience, partnerships that deliver collaborative, coordinated care, and team-based care delivered through new care systems including patient-centered medical home, the accountable care organization, and health information exchange.
- It’s going to take a realignment of payment incentives tied to the shift from volume to value as the primary metric of reimbursement, with attendant tools to measure and manage.
- It’s going to take interoperability and connectivity of information systems and information channels. And finally,
- It all must translate into improved operating efficiencies and bottom-line revenue to succeed.
Learn more about these issues and more at the 2012 mHealth Summit, Dec. 3-5, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside of Washington, DC