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Mobile healthcare uptake increases

Image of a section of the Smartphone = Smarter Healthcare infographic.
Smartphone = Smarter Healthcare infographic. Click on the image to see the entire infographic. Image courtesy alliedhealthworld.com.

Today, the biggest problem for e-health, especially in developing countries, is scalability and enabling health care providers and patients to use newer systems. This barrier to entry may be solved by m-health, the management of health care through mobile devices. You may have already heard of m-health, but you may not realize that you've used it before; for example, using a mobile app to monitor your heart rate. A new infographic, called Smartphone = Smarter Healthcare summarizes the rapid rise of mobile health management tools.

The infographic, created by healthcare consultants Allied World, boasts a number of not-for-profit sources, including Open mHealth, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, iHealthBeat, and others.

Highlights include statistics of how m-health could result in twice the number of rural patients being reached per doctor. Potential healthcare cost savings, if m-health is adopted, are 24% for data collection and 25% in care of senior people.

The m-health trend will benefit poorer communities too. The Mobile Alliance for Material Action (MAMA) is looking to offer free prepaid cell phone credits to low-income, at-risk expectant mothers so they can call or text health questions to experts in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.

With the number of people downloading a health app nearly doubling since last year, people are using them for tracking pregnancies, eating healthier, managing moods, checking nearby pollen levels, and so on. Currently, there are 40,000 medical health apps for smartphones and tablets, with 6.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide this year, which is set to increase to 7.4 billion subscribers by 2015.

And a m-health date to put in the diary is the 4th Annual m-health Summit conference to be held in Washington DC, US on 3-5 December 2012. As a co-organizer of this summit, the mHealth Alliance, who were not involved in the infographic says the growth of m-health in recent years is undeniable.

"The uniqueness of m-health allows technology to have a positive effect on populations with strikingly different needs. Mobiles have the ability to support maternal, newborn, child health practices, and health and well-being for aging populations in low and high-income countries alike," says Patricia Mechael, executive director of the mHealth Alliance. Since its creation, the mHealth Alliance has been working to mainstream m-health into global health practices, policies, and programs, working with the MAMA, Johnson and Johnson, and the United Nations Foundation among others.

A booming brain business

Mobile health applications are a growing business, estimated to be worth $11.8 billion (€9 billion) in 2018 according to the infographic.

One Canadian company, Mindful Scientific, are currently developing a mobile phone application as a low-cost solution for assessing brain health, called the Halifax Consciousness Scanner. It uses software to record, diagnose, and manage brain wave data for people suffering severe injuries, comas, neurocognitive disorders, and may help pharmaceutical companies reduce costs by up to 20% for clinical trials.

"Currently, there is no technology in the marketplace that can be equalled to ours," said Chris Barden, vice president of Mindful Scientific. "It compresses hours of lab time into a fast, five-minute test. With the direct medical costs for traumatic brain injury treatment in the US estimated at over $48 billion (€37 billion) annually, this solution has the potential to provide significant healthcare system savings."

The idea of the service is that both physicians and patients will benefit from convenient and accessible medical technologies that provide faster results for immediate clinical management decisions according to Ryan D'Arcy, Mindful Scientific's chief scientific officer.

The second-generation Halifax Consciousness Scanner prototype is currently in clinical validation. Following regulatory approval, the device should be released to the public in late 2013.

- Adrian Giordani

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