Mobile devices, apps and the patient health management revolution

Healthcare is in the midst of a mobile transformation, and recent research indicates there's no end in sight to mobile technology use in patient care.

The term revolution is applied, perhaps too readily, to many technological innovations. However, recent technological advances -- especially those in mobile computing -- are indeed revolutionizing the way people communicate, access and use information. Some of the newest innovations are affecting patient health management.

Mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets are proliferating in the consumer market. According to a recent Forbes article, more than 80% of Americans own and regularly use cell phones. Of those cell phones, approximately 50% are smartphones that run an operating system such as iOS or Android and are typically capable of browsing the Web and running downloadable applications.

In addition to the general consumer market, mobile technology is quickly becoming ubiquitous in healthcare. An InformationWeek article published in 2011 reported that 80% of doctors use a smartphone or tablet at work; and a HIMSS report offered data that "93% of physicians use some form of mobile technology daily, and 80% use tablets or smartphones to directly influence patient care."

According to InformationWeek, contributing factors to the popularity of mobile devices include their affordability, ease of use and portability (meaning they are easy to carry between patient exams to access electronic patient information). This is made possible by the trend for successive generations of devices to be lighter and contain more features than the last, while maintaining an affordable price-point.

High-quality healthcare apps become more mainstream

One of the other drivers of mobile technology in healthcare is the availability of myriad apps for smartphones and tablets. For each of the major smartphone operating systems, there is now an app for almost every conceivable healthcare need, ranging from drug dose calculators to fully functioning electronic medical records. Interestingly, the balance between iOS and Android use by healthcare providers appears tilted toward iOS. According to a report on iMedicalApps.com, when the popular medical app UpToDate is used on a mobile device, 90% of the users are on an iOS device.

According to InformationWeek, healthcare apps play a pivotal role in changing the utility of mobile devices. They're transforming smartphones or tablets to medical instruments that capture blood test results, medication information, glucose readings, medical images, enabling physicians and patients to better manage and monitor health information. Healthcare apps are clearly taking on more mainstream health IT functions and have moved beyond sporadic use by early adopters.

Mobile technology improves physician workflows

An article by CommonwealthFund.org offers that a large part of the appeal of mobile applications to physicians is that "apps are easily integrated into their workflow -- delivering information when and where they need it. Moreover, most apps are flexible enough to run on a variety of different mobile devices, which many physicians already own." This portability and flexibility of mobile devices and apps, enabling providers to bring the information they need with them to the point of care, is a key driver of the adoption of mobile technology. A CDW survey showed that 84% of respondents believe they are better multi-taskers as a result of using tablets.

This is good news for an industry clearly set to grow. A Clinical-Innovation.com report suggests that "app-enabled mHealth will be used to enable services ranging from remote patient monitoring to mobile ultrasound services" and that the "global mHealth market could reach $20.7 billion by 2018." According to the same report, estimates are that the wireless health market can expect more than 20% growth over the next five years.

Mobile technology helps patient engagement

Assisting in the clinical workflows of physicians is not the only benefit of smartphones and tablets. Mobile technology use is changing the nature of provider-patient interactions, as well. One such benefit is that technology is able to capture information about a patient's physiologic, lifestyle and environmental factors and use that information to aid them in managing their own health and lifestyle choices and to enhance information exchange with their care providers.

More on mobile devices and mHealth apps

Remote monitoring the next step for mobile

Three reports focus on physician use of mHealth

Healthcare executives consider future of mobile deployments

Healthcare delivery is no longer limited to face-to-face encounters between patients and providers. Modern smartphone applications appear to be heading toward a merging of traditional telehealth applications with current physiological tracking and lifestyle management apps. In fact, smartphones (and other mobile technology) are ideal tools to increase people's engagement in their own health and lifestyle management because such devices are always on and collecting data, connected to the net, and accompanying their users. Mobile devices are good adjuncts to patient engagement because they are able to "pick up numerous variables in a person's environment and can serve as sensors, aggregators and displays," according to the report on Clinical-Innovation.com.

As mobile technology continues to improve, becomes more widely adopted and supports more healthcare functions, we can expect to see healthcare transform even more. As technology evolves, this transformation will become less about the technology and more about how patients, providers and even payers are able to exchange information more transparently, more efficiently and with a higher level of trust. All this will enable the ultimate goal of ensuring that patients remain healthy and that providers can deliver the most effective care, in the most efficient and safe manner possible.

About the author:
Trevor Strome, M.S., PMP, leads the development of informatics and analytics tools that enable evidence-informed decision making by clinicians and healthcare leaders. His experience spans public, private and startup-phase organizations. A popular speaker, author and blogger, Strome is the founder of HealthcareAnalytics.info, and his book, Healthcare Analytics for Quality and Performance Improvement, was recently published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

This was first published in May 2014

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