Consumer Tech is Changing mHealth

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor and Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — August 06, 2013

Though mobility in business is not new, smartphones and tablets are newer, and mHealth is even younger.  Back in 2010, as healthcare organizations started to embrace mobility for both enhanced patient care and improving employee processes, mHealth was quite the buzzword. Mobile health would be the next evolution in healthcare.

While initially enterprises tried “reformatting the legacy system” to fit a smartphone or tablet, many, especially the end users, realized that the technology actually enabled much more.

The Ottawa Hospital, for example, winner of the 2012 Best In Enterprise Wide Mobility, deployed thousands of mobile devices to allow physicians more time with patients, instead of attending to paperwork. When doctors are able to review cases in real time, while with the person in question, not only can patient care be enhanced, but in some instances, life-saving.

In an interview with Mobile Enterprise, Michael Thomas, CEO, iSonea Limited, explained that the first “mHealth wave” actually started in 2008, with the standalone lifestyle apps that did not need FDA clearance, (the single focused apps that tallied sleep patterns, caloric intake, etc.). Then apps “took off” in general in 2010 and had a breakout year in 2012.

Just as apps were taking off, monitors themselves changed from just being functional to being attractive, in response to users who cared more about how devices looked, than with how accurate they performed.

2013 is poised to be a record year for both devices and apps, Thomas said, adding that we are now in stage two: chronic disease management.  And as has been seen in other industries, consumer technology is driving what’s in the business. That’s particularly true in healthcare where the needs of the business and the patient often overlap and can be addressed through the same solution.

For its part in the evolution, iSonea plans on launching its AirSonea device for asthma patients in Q1 2014, in the United States, following a launch abroad this year. The company's AsthmaSense app is already availabe for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

iSonea’s solution takes monitoring asthma a step further…..to predicting risk of an attack.

The solution is able to detect the sound and determine the severity of the wheeze. Combining a mobile app and a device measuring about four and a half inches long, one that is “smaller than the Samsung Galaxy,” the system is based on the constant collectivity of data sent to the cloud, where information is analyzed via algorithms. If the user’s risk profile is high, he or she is issued an alert.

The old fashioned way of determining asthma used to be a doctor and a stethoscope, Thomas said, usually when wheezing was already imminent in a patient seeking help. And of course, a doc was not around 24/7 to monitor.

Traditional healthcare also used to cost 10s to 100s of millions to develop and commercialize solutions, a massive investment that has to be justified, Thomas said. Now, with apps and wearable devices, it’s nowhere near the investment needed, and can go to market far more quickly because the reimbursement, insurance company and doctor promotion process is eliminated.

In Practice
Lehigh Valley Health Network, with more than 10,000 employees, and covering a large area in Pennsylvania, first deployed a small batch of tablets after a request from its obstetrics and gynecology department.

From there, the pilot program simply ballooned, said Jim Shellhamer, IT Analyst and Mobile Device Administrator, Lehigh Valley Health Network, to Mobile Enterprise.

Its Home Care nurses now use iPhones and iPads when visiting patients’ homes while high risk pregnancy patients are given tablets and a set of specialized apps to track vital aspects of the pregnancy. Patients can even video conference with a doctor or nurse practitioner if needed.

Forward and Beyond
With HIPAA regulations calling for “stringent management and digitalization of patient records,” mHealth has its work cut out but is clearly what the end-user demands.

“Where does this thing go? It’s hard to say because healthcare is different than the typical consumer-based approach,” said Thomas. Patients are notorious for not being able to adhere to a doctor’s prescribed plan, for example.  

Additionally, many healthcare organizations find initial resistance on the employee side to system changes. Earlier this year, in a roundtable discussion with Mobile Enterprise, Joe DeChow, Manager, IS Infrastructure at Munson Medical Center, discussed trying to implement a BYOD policy in his organization — up against legacy devices.

“Since we are a hospital, we are one of the institutions that still heavily uses traditional pagers," he said. "We foresee the need to migrate to other devices, and often to a personally owned one, over the next few years."

This presents an unusual dilemma somewhat unique to his industry. The users are more concerned with actually turning off while off.

“I have found a number of folks who don’t want to give up their pager in favor of the company provided cell phone for text messages (pages) from the hospital. They feel that they can turn the pager off when they aren’t on call or at work, but the phone is their personal device too. People in this ‘business’ want to have control of their personal time, which seems to be contrary to some other industries where people want more and more connectivity and always be reachable,” he says.

Related Content:
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Mobility in Healthcare: The Perfect Storm of Needs and Solutions

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