mHealth Forcing Healthcare Industry to Rethink Delivery of Care

Growth in mHealth Offers Both Challenges and Opportunities

Booming mHealth technologies are changing the very nature and speed of how healthcare interacts with patients, providers and payers. The impact is being felt across the entire health IT industry. Roberta Mullin recently asked Jonathon Dreyer, Director of Mobile Solutions Marketing for the Healthcare Division at Nuance Communications, some questions about the current state of mHealth and what the future may hold.

Q. What mobile platforms are emerging as the most developed and adopted in the mhealth space?
A. In order to answer this question we should first look at the web vs. native mobile app argument that has been forging for years. While it’s often more expensive and time consuming to develop native apps, the benefits they provide just might outweigh the time and cost factors, especially in the healthcare setting. Native apps are arguably more reliable, faster, and have a richer set of features than their web app brethren and research has shown that native apps have higher adoption rates, greater ongoing usage, and, in general, provide a more engaging experience for the end user. A native app approach in healthcare is supported by the fact that the medical community has somewhat standardized on iOS as a result of user adoption patterns. According to research published last year, approximately 28 percent of physicians had planned to purchase an iPad in 2011 and for physicians who do not yet own a mobile device, 66 percent are likely to select an Apple product.1,2  With the release of the latest versions of the iPad and iPhone, and their resolution and 4G improvements, this adoption pattern will surely continue to climb (especially across medical specialties where a superior screen resolution is critical to workflow and usability).

Q. What are the challenges with HIPAA and privacy issue with mobile technology? 
A. We’ve all seen the stories about the explosion of mobile health technology amongst the medical community.  Most recently, Manhattan Research estimated that 62 percent of U.S. physicians are using tablets, with half of those actually leveraging them at the point of care.  Alongside this mobile technology expansion and the related patient care improvement opportunities surrounding it, we’ve encountered a series of roadblocks – from frustrations surrounding changes in workflow to more threatening issues like device security.  For the most part, no patient sensitive data resides on these devices themselves, but it’s the potential access to a provider’s network through these devices that ultimately concerns healthcare IT professionals. Smartphones and tablets, especially those which are provider owned, are prime candidates for loss and theft. And, if mobile devices that are connected to a health system network get into the wrong hands, the door is open for potential misuse. Despite these challenges, enhancements to both mobile device hardware and software, in addition to tested security protocols, are helping overcome security challenges.

Q. What do you see happening in the rural and sometimes urban areas that do not have stable or good enough internet access to support much of this mobile technology 
A. Depending on the type of solution, cloud-based services are being adopted across all types and sizes of healthcare organizations. However, these solutions are becoming quite prevalent in smaller facilities and practices where limited technology infrastructures and lack of internal IT resources are fueling adoption.  Facilities are able to reduce technology costs and operationalize their investment by taking advantage of these hosted solutions. Despite all of this, access to consistent high-speed data networks for bandwidth intensive workflows within certain markets is a valid concern. Even so, internet accessibility continues to expand rapidly, mobile apps are providing both online and offline workflows, and many healthcare apps and services are being optimized to run over low bandwidth.

Q. It is an industry challenge and concern to find sustainable business models for mobile health globally. Is the US better positioned to find these profitable businesses?
A. The movement towards a more mobile environment in medicine is forcing the health IT industry to rethink its approach to electronic medical record systems.  In fact, it’s forcing the entire industry as a whole – patient, provider and payers, alike – to reconsider the model in which they deliver, participate and pay for care. As pressures to cut costs and improve patient care continues to rise, healthcare providers will continue to seek solutions, like mobile, which save time, money, and contribute to improvements in workflow, patient care, and patient engagement. With no capital outlay, operationalizing expenses, and a “pay-as-you-go” model, healthcare providers are embracing the IT investment savings associated with reduced technology costs, IT resource requirements, and energy consumption. The consumerization of healthcare technology is swiftly becoming a reality and the trend toward more expansive mobile technology adoption amongst providers and patients is proof that this trend is taking hold.

1. Modahl, Mary. Tablets Set to Change Medical Practice. Quantia Communications. 15 June 2011.
2. Taking the Pulse U.S. v11.0. Manhattan Research. 01 March 2011.

Jonathon Dreyer is director of mobile solutions marketing for Nuance’s Healthcare division. He is responsible for bringing cloud-based medical speech recognition and clinical language understanding services to a worldwide community of healthcare IT developers and provider organizations. Prior to his current role, Mr. Dreyer was responsible for diagnostic imaging solutions at Nuance and headed up marketing at Commissure Inc, a provider of clinical documentation and healthcare communication solutions. Jon’s passion for mobile technology and healthcare can be seen through his contributed blogs on For the Health of IT and on Twitter:  @JonathonDreyer.