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Five key trends for mHealth and telehealth in 2014

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Ladies and gentlemen, pull out your smartphones and switch on those tablets, because mHealth is here to stay.  Far from just a fleeting novelty to occupy kids in the waiting room, the use of connected devices to collect patient data, monitor ongoing conditions, access health information, and communicate with providers, patients, and peers is a trend that just keeps getting stronger.

In 2014, as mHealth shifts into the mainstream, healthcare organizations will need to be able to understand and accept patient-provided data in a large-scale way.  What are the five areas to watch for when investigating ways to leverage telehealth and mobile data?

Bigger networks, better standards

As mHealth and telehealth become more mainstream, vendors and service providers will need to bolster the infrastructure behind these new tools.  While some barriers to telemedicine licensing and insurance coverage remain, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and others are working hard to expand connectivity between rural areas and standardize the industry.

Cell phone carriers like Verizon and Sprint are also getting into the game by using their vast and trusted networks to bring mobile patient engagement and data  to the big leagues. “[Verizon’s] 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.

EHR integration and analytics

With all this new data flying back and forth, providers will need to find a way to organize and view the input in a meaningful way.

“I think for large volume patient-generated data, that the data needs to be accessible for them when they need it in the EHR, tagged as patient-generated data,” says Dr. Neil Evans, Associate Chief of Staff of Informatics and Co-Chief of Primary Care at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center.  “If we build analytics into our systems, I feel like we should be able to alert patients that something seems to be out of line.  The provider needs to be able to quickly take a look at that in their primary workflow.”

The next few years will likely see an expansion of EHR-integrated mHealth applications as patient expectations increase and physicians embrace the idea of making use of the data.  With some groups already calling for mHealth data to be a core feature of Stage 3 Meaningful Use, EHR integration won’t be far behind.

Tools for physicians to improve decision making

The collection and analysis of these new data sets will lead to the development and use of new tools for physicians to make better and cheaper decisions.  Simple actions such as consulting peers through telehealth have been shown to reduce harmful medical errors among pediatric patients and improve stroke care by leaps and bounds.  mHealth has long been a starring feature of public health improvement programs in developing nations, and providing physicians in rural areas with reference tools can significantly affect the quality of care delivered.  As these efforts bear fruit, more physicians will come to rely on their smartphones for daily decision support and communication.

Out of the office and into the home

Healthcare doesn’t just occur within the walls of a hospital or office building.  For many patients, keeping well is a constant battle that requires a high rate of daily vigilance and monitoring.  Since physicians can’t dedicate 24 hours a day to one single patient, they are turning to home monitoring devices and mobile apps to keep tabs on high risk cases.

“Successfully negotiating your healthcare system is about getting prescription refills, making appointments, cancelling appointments, and dealing with transactions that can seem to get in the way of actually improving health, which is our real goal,” explains Dr. Evans.  “If we make those transactions easier, then they fade out of the forefront in the patients’ minds, and we can really allow the platform to serve as a way to help patients better self-manage their health, but also to have those open lines of communication with their healthcare teams so that we can help them manage their health together.”

Gamification for ongoing wellness

And to provide incentive for self-management, some app developers are turning everything into a game.  To save money on insurance premiums and encourage a healthier workforce, many companies are turning to contests and quizzes to help employees lose weight, stop smoking, or just take the stairs more often.

Marshfield Clinic won recognition from the ONC earlier this year for their heart health game that urges users to complete tasks like risk scorecards and positive lifestyle changes while rewarding them with points. “It empowers people a little bit more than what they had without it, and they can now get a better sense of their cardiovascular disease, and it fits right in their pocket,” said Jeffrey VanWormer, an epidemiologist at the clinic’s research foundation who worked on the app.

As mHealth continues its meteoric rise in popularity, that empowerment will likely manifest itself through feel-good rewards that have real clinical value.  A little fun and a lot of problem solving is the hallmark of the burgeoning mHealth industry and a key factor in engaging patients and providers alike in mobile health management in the future.




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