M-Health is a catchword title of the term “mobile health,” which is one of the fields of e-Health. It includes medical services such as monitoring, disease prevention, diagnostics, using mobile devices, and wireless data transmission technologies.
To use m-Health technologies, a patient needs a mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet, PDA with Internet access. It is also possible to use specialized tools, mainly sensors; with its assistance, physicians can collect health data. Information is disseminated via SMS, voice calls, or email. Communication can be among health services, and between patients and doctors.
Work on creating mobile health systems in the United States, Canada, Britain, and India has been going on since the 90s when the governments of developed countries in terms of mobile technologies realized the need to create remote health systems.
In 1999, the term e-Health appeared, meaning the informatization of the medical field in general. In the 2000s, the area associated with mobile devices’ use began to be distinguished from the universal concept of electronic health (Istepanian & Woodward, 2016). In 2008, following the e-Health conference in Italy, the m-Health Alliance, a not-for-profit health organization, was formed to increase the availability of m-health in developing countries (Istepanian & Woodward, 2016). The organization also builds accessible online communities and fosters partnerships with other organizations.
These days approximately 500 million people worldwide are already using mobile health apps. This number of users is projected to surpass 1 billion by 2018 (Istepanian & Woodward, 2016). The leading companies involved in the development and implementation of m-Health systems are Apple, AT&T, Fitbit, Jawbone, Qualcomm, Nike, and Intel.
These days m-Health consists of two broad areas that develop simultaneously, at different rates, while exerting mutual influence. The first is technologies, devices, applications, and services for the diagnostics, treatment and care of patients. For instance, “Care Innovations” – a system for receiving advice and assistance from specialists worldwide, “SugarSenz” monitors blood sugar levels. The second is systems and accessories designed to monitor compliance with wellness and fitness. The most prominent examples are fitness bracelets, smart T-shirts, and special pillows.
In the m-Health domain, these areas are gradually converging and merging. Therefore, it would be appropriate not to distinguish healthcare or medicine, but ensure human health through all approaches implementing mobile and other technologies.
M-Health is already being used to monitor diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, autism, insomnia, and asthma. It has become helpful for physicians to communicate with a person, monitor patients in real-time, and provide telemedicine services. Also, m-Health technology is adopted for emergency response. For example, after Haiti’s earthquake in 2010, m-Health applications were used to create a logistics map using SMS notifications for missing persons or humanitarian needs (Istepanian & Woodward, 2016). Patients use mobile health systems to track their health data using apps and body-mounted sensors.
M-Health is a relatively young industry but dynamic and promising. There are more than enough preconditions for dynamics. There are five factors and areas, contributing to mobile health development that will benefit from its implementation in the medical field. First of all, the number of mobile subscribers in the world has already exceeded the population of the planet, exceeding 7 billion. In five years, every person living on Earth will have from 2 to 6 connected devices (Dwivedi et al., 2016). Furthermore, aging is a severe economic problem. According to UN forecasts, by 2050, 22% of the world’s population will be retired (Dwivedi et al., 2016). Older people are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and need more medical care.
Moreover, villagers often do not have access to qualified medical care and need remote treatment. Health care systems are getting more expensive. Global population growth and aging are driving up medical costs. U.S. healthcare spending will grow from $ 3 trillion in 2014 to $ 5 trillion in 2022 (Dwivedi et al., 2016). Finally, there is a lack of medical staff. It is expected that by 2020 there will be a 1 million nursing shortage in the United States (Gagnon et al., 2016).
m-Health is based on mobile personal devices. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and communication is available where there are no doctors. A mobile phone can accumulate a complete medical record of the user in its memory, being vital at critical moments. Considering the use of web-based storage, the amount of information available from mobile devices becomes unlimited.
Almost all flagship smartphones from the most significant manufacturers contain sensors and software that monitor health – pedometer, pulse oximeter, health diaries.
There are a vast number of options for mobile software that allows patients to continually store and monitor in dynamics various indicators of a person’s physical condition. This concerns weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels.
Besides, mobile applications help to comply with diet and medication intake. Programs targeting specific groups of patients are emerging, depending on their diseases. A smartphone can also become a personal trainer that intelligently distributes the load and systematically makes progress with the user.
M-Health has not only advantages but also disadvantages. These systems have some problems related to protecting the confidentiality of patient personal data provided on mobile devices, ensuring mobile health technologies’ compatibility with existing technologies.
Medical organizations are the operators of the personal data of their patients. They are directly involved in collecting, systematization, updating, modification, distribution, and destruction of such information. Information related to testing results, disease, and patient treatment must be completely confidential.
So far, the government has not yet elaborated on the law with specific nuances for the proper use of personal data collected by mobile applications. This might become a critical issue of the implementation of mobile technologies into the official healthcare sphere. Moreover, m-Health as a part of telemedicine is susceptible to hacker attacks compared to other systems providing data storage. Medical organizations remain one of the main targets for online criminals. Therefore, cybersecurity is given special attention. Regarding other issues of implementing m-Health apps into the medical system, there are also technical problems. They must meet stringent requirements, operate in a multi-way environment, and have high image quality because the patient’s life often depends on it – all this demands expensive additional costs.
North America and Europe are the two largest mHealth markets. The available opportunities in mobile medicine are proliferating with the advent of new devices, sensors, and applications. There exist telemedicine and remote monitoring, patient data transmission, electronic charts, electronic prescriptions, sleep, and pregnancy monitoring.
This industry is developing rapidly worldwide, even in underdeveloped countries, where it can become a lifesaver for people without access to medical care. It increases the use of doctors’ time and productivity, improving the quality of services. It can simplify access and return equity to health care, including treatment of the elderly, unequal access to services (Dwivedi et al., 2016). It will allow patients to participate in their treatment period actively. Moreover, it will potentially reduce costs, or at least significantly enlarge investment benefits.
This is the fastest-growing segment in terms of attracting external investments. According to estimates, investments in its account for up to 10% of the total volume of venture capital transactions (Gagnon et al., 2016). The number of startups focused on online content and medical services is increasing. Another promising direction is the development of all kinds of devices and applications for monitoring health indicators.
m-Health is not only new technology but also an entirely new way of patient-doctor interaction and patient care. Hospitals and clinics are continually striving to rethink patient care models and processes to improve patient care and safety.
Its implementation facilitates communication on both sides. For the patient, the process of receiving medical care is simplified. For the doctor, the workload from routine operations is reduced, allowing more time to be devoted to the actual diagnosis and treatment. Mobile access to information makes data retrieval easy. It accelerates decision-making and reduces patient and doctor distance. Medical advisers and nurses can communicate efficiently and quickly.
A system is successfully operating in Sweden that allows remote reading of patient heart pacemakers. The Soarian Clinical system facilitates the process of monitoring the condition of both the patient and his or her pacemaker from afar, relieving a person being usually older adults from having to come to an appointment every six months to check his or her condition. This technology is reliable and very sensitive – the monitoring system reacts to such changes in the patient’s health, or problems of the stimulator, which a person often can not notice, or does not pay attention to it.
Dwivedi, Y. K., Shareef, M. A., Simintiras, A. C., Lal, B., & Weerakkody, V. (2016). A generalized adoption model for services: A cross-country comparison of mobile health (m-health). Government Information Quarterly, 33(1), 174-187. Web.
Gagnon, M. P., Ngangue, P., Payne-Gagnon, J., & Desmartis, M. (2016). m-Health adoption by healthcare professionals: A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 23(1), 212-220. Web.
Istepanian, R. S., & Woodward, B. (2016). M-health: Fundamentals and applications. John Wiley & Sons.