Mobile health, also known as mHealth, is a general term describing the use of mobile phones and other wireless technology in health care. Mobile health is a subset of telehealth, with a particular emphasis on the use of mobile phones for communication between patients and healthcare providers. It also includes the use of wireless medical devices for monitoring patients remotely.
Mobile technology is changing the landscape of healthcare delivery across the developing world by giving people who live in rural villages the ability to connect with doctors, nurses and other health care workers in major cities. What mobile technologies are doing is changing the way we see global health in terms of our ability to impact populations, to collect data in real time, to develop real strategies to impact public health that we hadn’t thought of before.
Driving the demand behind increasing mHealth is the new crop of tech-savvy patients. People are using social media to interact with their peers and discuss medical conditions, and a wave of new applications is helping patients monitor prescriptions, receive appointment reminders, and send information to their caregivers. And that, in turn, is driving more sophisticated care and communication among providers and patients. Tech-savvy physicians equally are happy to use their own devices if it means productivity increases.
One popular instance of mobile healthcare is using text messaging to send information and reminders to patients. For example text messages with important health information and reminders to patients. Remote patient monitoring is another form of mobile health care involving devices that monitor patient health and then send the data electronically to a health care provider, such as a smart pill container that monitors and records when it’s been opened and closed; wearable personal infrared sensors that will assess diet, exercise and overall physical activity, and an infrared sensor that measures air pollution.
Mobile health apps are another popular example of mHealth. Mobile health also takes place within the clinical setting. Health care professionals are using smartphones and other mobile devices to communicate with each other, to access electronic health records (EHRs) and to educate patients. Smartphones and tablets are two of the most widely used devices in mobile healthcare. Vendors are developing health care applications for a variety of mobile operating systems and devices, such as phones and tablets running the Android OS. The Bluetooth 4.0 standard was designed to reduce the power drain of mobile devices and will enable wireless healthcare devices to port data straight into EHR systems.
Medical radio frequency identification (RFID) is another mHealth technology being used in some hospitals to track items such as wheelchairs and intravenous pumps. Mobile health technologies require a robust health IT infrastructure and a healthy wireless network that can handle many devices at once.
Health apps are application programs that offer health-related services for smartphones and tablet PCs. Because they’re accessible to patients both at home and on-the-go, health apps are a part of the movement towards mobile health (mHealth) programs in health care. There are many varieties of health apps available for purchase from app stores. Some are designed to help consumers make healthier choices in their everyday life by offering advice about fitness or nutrition. Others help doctors and patients communicate from afar, like apps for diabetics that automatically sent glucose readings to their primary care physicians. Some apps are aimed at physicians themselves—many apps combine mHealth with Electronic Medical Records (EMR), allowing doctors to keep accurate records that are easily accessible.
Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance. It helps eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities. It is also used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations. These technologies permit communications between patient and medical staff with both convenience and fidelity, as well as the transmission of medical, imaging and health informatics data from one site to another. Telemedicine can be broken into three main categories: store-and-forward, remote monitoring and (real-time) interactive services.
1. Store-and-forward telemedicine involves acquiring medical data (like medical images, biosignals etc.) and then transmitting this data to a doctor or medical specialist at a convenient time for assessment offline. It does not require the presence of both parties at the same time. Dermatology, radiology, and pathology are common specialties that are conducive to asynchronous telemedicine. A properly structured medical record preferably in electronic form should be a component of this transfer. A key difference between traditional in-person patient meetings and telemedicine encounters is the omission of an actual physical examination and history. The ‘store-and-forward’ process requires the clinician to rely on a history report and audio/video information in lieu of a physical examination.
2. Remote monitoring, also known as self-monitoring or testing, enables medical professionals to monitor a patient remotely using various technological devices. This method is primarily used for managing chronic diseases or specific conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus, or asthma. These services can provide comparable health outcomes to traditional in-person patient encounters, supply greater satisfaction to patients, and may be cost-effective.
3. Interactive telemedicine services provide real-time interactions between patient and provider, to include phone conversations, online communication and home visits. Many activities such as history review, physical examination, psychiatric evaluations and ophthalmology assessments can be conducted comparably to those done in traditional face-to-face visits. In addition, “clinician-interactive” telemedicine services may be less costly than in-person clinical visit. Telemedicine can be extremely beneficial for people living in isolated communities and remote regions and is currently being applied in virtually all medical domains.
Patients who live in such areas can be seen by a doctor or specialist, who can provide an accurate and complete examination, while the patient may not have to travel or wait the normal distances or times like those from conventional hospital or GP visits.
Recent developments in mobile collaboration technology with the use of hand-held mobile devices allow healthcare professionals in multiple locations the ability to view, discuss and assess patient issues as if they were in the same room. Remote monitoring through mobile technology could reduce annual US drug costs by 15 percent by reducing outpatient visits, verifying prescriptions, and overseeing patient drug administration. Barriers to widespread adoption of remote monitoring include equipment costs, technical training and evaluation time.
Wireless Medical Devices
Hospitals have been quick to adopt wireless networks. Many facilities use Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, to tag and manage medical devices; their computers on wheels, moreover, are often connected to a wireless network and communicating with other devices in the hospital. Having the network in place lowers the cost of entry into an expanded world of wireless medical devices. In addition, cellular service providers now offer more robust networks, designed specifically for machine-to-machine communications, and an aging population has increased the demand for health monitoring devices.
Patient and Data Mobility
By incorporating wireless technologies into medical products, many products that were once tethered to patients, positioned next to hospital beds and located at a nurses’ station are now transportable. This has allowed two major healthcare improvements.
First, it has increased patient mobility, both at the hospital and at home. By incorporating a wireless protocol such as 802.11b into a patient monitor, a patient can leave their hospital bed while still having their vital signs, including blood pressure, electrocardiogram and temperature, continuously monitored through the hospital’s access points. As an added benefit, a patient can be tracked through the hospital.
The development of less invasive monitoring and treatment methods for common diseases has also improved patient mobility. Innovations have allowed at-home patient monitoring, minimizing patient trips to the hospital and saving valuable hospital space. The continuous monitoring of patient data at home improves compliance by operating independently of the patient’s efforts.
For example, there are now implantable devices that monitor glucose levels without a patient having to puncture themselves with needles several times a day. The resulting data can be transmitted to a networked computer in the patient’s home, allowing a healthcare professional to monitor the patient data without the patient having to set foot in a hospital.
The second improvement is that healthcare professionals now have real-time access to patient data throughout hospitals. Caregivers can monitor their patients and retrieve patient data on handheld devices at the patient’s bedside. Timely access to patient data allows doctors to make immediate critical care decisions and perform administrative tasks such as gathering patient notes and writing prescriptions. Even critical life-sustaining devices, such as pacemakers, can now be checked by doctors using wireless telemetry. Quicker diagnosis via telemetry reduces the time a patient spends in hospital undergoing regular checkups and allows the doctor to react more rapidly to any patient problems.
Bluetooth is the most recent wireless protocol in the medical space. As a low-power, point-to-point protocol with an accepted international standard, Bluetooth enables increased patient mobility and gives healthcare professionals easier access to patient data. Bluetooth was designed to allow small groups of up to eight devices communicate with each other over a Personal Area Network (PAN). These ad hoc networks, called piconets, have the potential to make the seamless integration of all key medical equipment in hospital rooms and at home possible. Patient privacy can easily be designed into products, since Bluetooth supports many security features, including password protection and encryption.
A good example of a product that Bluetooth makes possible is a wireless electrocardiogram. Each patient lead can be designed as a separate battery-powered Bluetooth device that communicates with a battery-powered Bluetooth-enabled patient monitor. That patient monitor, which also communicates with the hospital’s 802.11b network, continuously sends the electrocardiogram data to the network. Meanwhile, the doctor can monitor this data from anywhere in the hospital using his handheld PDA, thereby completing the entire electrocardiogram monitoring process without a single wire.
As Healthcare being one of the core domain where Ranosys Technologies is working and coming up with progressive and adaptable solutions mHealth holds so much potential as an industry game changer. The specialization we have here in Ranosys Technologies in the development of systems and “Radio Frequency Identification” applications related to healthcare is put to use for convergence of technology, the easy flow of information and deeper patient-provider relationships, all points to the healthcare goals of reducing waste and costs, while improving quality and care.
Ranosys Technologies believes that wireless networks, mobile devices, new applications, and innovative approaches to care delivery and reimbursement can tackle the pressure points in a fragmented healthcare system. Mobile health techniques could help alleviate issues from an aging population and growing numbers of chronically ill patients to anticipated physician shortages.
Keeping all the points in mind Ranosys Technologies is pacing towards providing the best and most convenient solutions in mhealth.