Who put the 'm' in mHealth?

mHealth is currently a topic of much discussion. But nobody really knows what it is, and nobody has defined what it is – everybody’s interpretation is different. To some it involves electronic health records, to others it's something you do on a mobile phone.

Where do you draw the line? Does a standalone fitness app that records how many steps you take in a day count? How does that differ from an application that monitors a serious condition? Others take a wider view, including anything health-related that isn’t a traditional approach, something other than having an old-fashioned face-to-face conversation with your doctor. For example, a remote consultation with a doctor over Skype would be mHealth. It’s all very confusing.

All of the above probably are mHealth in the widest interpretation, but to me it’s just health. Take the ‘m’ off the front. We’re simply delivering healthcare in a different way.

The evolution of healthcare

The concept of delivering health support to a patient outside a healthcare setting started with the telephone. That became telemonitoring, which we now see as clunky, unfashionable, pieces of a kit, hard-wired into a monitor the size of an old-school TV. We connected blood pressure monitors but they were hard-wired through USB and provided very basic information back to whoever was monitoring you at the other end. This was large, intrusive for patients and hugely expensive for payers, not just in providing the equipment, but also managing installation, maintenance, logistics and support.

In the last year or two we have seen the introduction of slicker, more maneuverable devices – tablets, mobile phones, laptops – that allow people to have more flexibility to move. But these programs have mainly provisioned devices, still require hard-wiring in terms of broadband, and as a result hold similar expense for the payer.

The remote control to our lives

The real win-win for payers and patients is to get to a place where you can use the patient’s own communication, health and lifestyle devices. Not only is the patient already familiar with them, but payers aren't required to purchase, provision or install anything, and you scale back the level of support required. Initially this means manual entry of data from external devices such as glucometers and pulse-oximeters, but over time many of these devices will come with Bluetooth (or the next generation of connectivity).

This will be truly advantageous to the payer because the upfront system is as minimal as can be, and will bring huge benefit to patients because they can be monitored and supported, but don’t have to have extra devices.

I believe this model will bring phenomenal results for payers, but the benefit is only going to be seen if these solutions have low entry costs and, more importantly, the patient actually uses them. If the patient doesn’t use them, there will never be return on investment.

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