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PwC: mHealth will only thrive through interoperability

By Jennifer Bresnick

For software developers, patients, and a growing number of physicians, mobile health (mHealth) is the technological revolution they’ve been waiting for, bringing healthcare to pockets and purses, smartphones and tablets – and eventually straight to the EHR through infusion pumps, blood glucose trackers, and heart monitors.  But the foundation for this connected future, driven by the ubiquity of internet-enabled phones and Bluetooth devices, is interoperability.  But according to a recent report by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC), the ability of devices, apps, and EHR software to integrate with each other is lagging behind industry enthusiasm for mHealth and its extraordinary promises.

As late as June of 2012, more than half of physicians reported that their practice’s IT systems were poorly integrated with the mHealth apps they had chosen to use.  And only 15% stated that their mHealth apps worked smoothly with health data systems that patients accessed, an appallingly low figure for such a consumer-facing initiative.

The problem, according to PwC, is a total lack of technical standards and a proprietary approach to software architecture that prevents devices from communicating. “This closed approach is intended to create a dedicated customer base and a competitive advantage for the medical device company,” the report says. “For this reason, many healthcare systems are disparate and difficult to integrate, and only the vendor seems to know the secret on how to unlock the data.”

But this path actually produces few benefits for medical device and EHR vendors.  Providers are more likely to choose a device or a system if it’s widely compatible with other products, PwC argues, which will boost adoption and satisfaction.  Patients will engage with mHealth offerings if they are easy to use, and physicians who are eager to integrate mHealth into their workflow will be able to do so with less effort and loss of productivity if they buy products that work out of the box with their existing equipment.

“Vendors must demonstrate the clinical efficacy and return on investment of mHealth solutions to gain physician acceptance,” the report asserts. “Interoperability plays a key role in this, because it ensures greater data accuracy, which in turn increases the confidence of both physicians and patients. And a device that is interoperable with various systems enhances data security and reliability thus making it easier for device manufacturers to gain regulatory approvals.”

In order to achieve seamless integration, providers and patients must push developers and device manufacturers towards using open standards that promote interoperability and cooperation among industry stakeholders.  Only then will mHealth deliver on the promise of lower costs, greater patient engagement, smoother workflows, and a truly connected healthcare ecosystem designed with quality care in mind.




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