Can mobile health technologies transform healthcare?

Mobile healthcare technology, also known as mHealth, is all around us.

Apps that store our medical records, phones delivering SMS appointment reminders, activity-tracking watches: these are all relatively recent advancements that have made healthcare easier to manage, monitor, deliver and receive.

And while mobile healthcare is already changing lives, we’re still only at the beginning of what is likely to be an enormous digital shift for caregivers, patients and all other stakeholders.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the technologies at the forefront of the mHealth revolution, discuss the benefits they offer and address some of the challenges they might pose.

What is mobile healthcare?

Mobile healthcare (mHealth) is the use of mobile devices like smartphones, tablet computers and wearables to provide, or support the provision of, medical care.

It encompasses hardware and software as well as any other technologies these devices and applications use to function, including wireless connectivity, sensors and cloud computing.

As a concept, mHealth is as old as mobile technology itself. But as mobile technologies have become more capable over the years, their potential in medical contexts has grown significantly.

Statista estimates that the global mHealth market will be worth $189 billion by 2025, up from $23 billion in 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing areas of digital healthcare.

Three real-life examples of successful mobile healthcare

By looking at real-life examples of mHealth in action we can understand some of the benefits mobile technology brings to the sector.

For patients: the NHS App

Launched in December 2018, the NHS App allows people in England to access medical records and manage their healthcare using a smartphone or tablet computer. Among other actions, users can book GP appointments, order medication and register for organ donation.

The NHS App’s popularity rocketed in May 2021 when the NHS started using it to provide COVID Passes to eligible users. At the end of 2021, it had 22 million registered users who together had booked 1.1 million GP appointments, ordered 10.4 million repeat prescriptions and downloaded 141 million COVID passes.

The benefits: As well as providing unprecedented convenience for millions of users, this app helps to streamline healthcare admin processes for GP surgeries, hospitals and medical centres across England, saving time and money for an under-pressure health service.

For practitioners: Touch Surgery

Touch Surgery is a mobile-based surgical training platform that allows practitioners to learn new skills, refresh their knowledge and prepare for upcoming procedures using a smartphone or tablet.

The company was founded by two UK-trained surgeons in 2012 and its app now has more than three million users worldwide. These users, who comprise both practising and trainee surgeons, can test themselves on realistic, interactive simulations of more than 200 common procedures.

According to its online blurb, the app “is integrated into over 100 residency programs in the US and is endorsed by the AO foundation, American Association for Surgery of the Hand (AASH), British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.”

The benefits: While an app can’t fully replace in-person medical training, it does give users the chance to practice and learn from any location without jeopardising a real patient’s health. It, therefore, has the potential to reduce training costs, save practitioners time and improve the access to valuable knowledge.

Touch Surgeon and other apps like it offer huge possibilities for the developing world, too. They provide knowledge for the limited number of surgeons available and then give them the ability to provide more varied care.

For all: VCare Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring is one of the more established applications of digital technology in healthcare. Using mobile technologies alongside other hardware, platforms like VCare Remote Patient Monitoring allow medical practitioners to track patient health from afar and deliver care directly to those in need.

In this example, referred patients are given VCare wearable devices that transmit vital health data to a mobile app, which is accessible to both the patient and their clinician. This app can raise an alarm when the wearer’s health status changes while also allowing simple face-to-face communication.

The benefits: As well as saving clinicians and their patients time, remote healthcare monitoring can help to free hospital beds by shortening patient stays, improving condition education among patients and making healthcare access easier to those who are unable to travel 

Unavoidable challenges

Mobile healthcare isn’t without challenges.

As with every digital transformation, there are data privacy risks to consider. Practitioners and in some cases even patients will also require training to get the most from new mobile technologies.

Investment is another concern. The mHealth tools above all have the potential to save healthcare providers time and money in the long term, but they also required significant investment to get off the ground. Medical tech start-ups will need plenty of financial support and incentives in the coming years if mobile technologies are to continue transforming healthcare.

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