Electronic Health Records

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Could cell phone companies solve the mHealth problem?

By Jennifer Bresnick

mHealth is really great at one thing: generating tons of patient-provided data that no one has quite figured out how to use in an efficient, effective, workflow-friendly way.  While the potential for mHealth and remote patient monitoring are huge, and the number of available apps for Apple and Android platforms is staggering, EHRs are rarely able to make use of non-native dietary trackers or blood pressure logs, and some physicians aren’t even sure they want to.

But Verizon’s introduction of its Converged Health Management system presents an interesting opportunity.  Could cell phone companies, with their deep network penetration and enormous, captive customer base, harness the power of smartphones by providing a trusted infrastructure for increasing patient engagement, standardizing patient-provided data, and incentivizing compliance?

The FDA approved system uses a dedicated device to allow patients to collect biometric data like glucose levels, oxygen saturation, and body weight, which is then automatically transmitted to Verizon’s HIPAA-compliant cloud, where it can be analyzed and viewed by participating healthcare providers.  Patients can view their data, connect anonymously with other users to ask health questions, or receive feedback from their providers between visits.  To integrate the information into an EHR, providers can connect to the network through an API.

While neither the concept nor the technology is particularly new, it’s the large scale and immense reach of Verizon as a communications provider that may provide the key for success.  “Converged Health Management is a perfect example of how we are using our unique combination of assets like our 4G LTE wireless network and cloud infrastructure to deliver an innovative, cost-effective and game-changing solution to the marketplace,” said John Stratton, President of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, in a press release.

Just as many of the big EHR vendors have found success by standardizing their software across large numbers of customers, making it easier to exchange data and communicate, mHealth might benefit from similar codification by a small number of well-known, well-equipped entities.  There are more than 100,000 health-related apps available to consumers, and few are endorsed or approved by recognized medical authorities.  Would patients be more likely to use a pre-vetted application to engage with their providers through their smartphone if they knew that their carrier’s network was securing and storing the data?

As home monitoring becomes more important for an aging generation of baby boomers and the mHealth market continues to expand, it will be an interesting question to ponder.  Patients are generally positive about using their smartphones for healthcare purposes, and physicians may be more likely to join in that enthusiasm if they could access a simple, meaningful interface directly from their EHRs and backed by one of the biggest names in the data business.

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