5 ways to advance mHealth’s impact in healthcare

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Mobile health apps hold tremendous potential, but not without a structured apporach to data collection.

Enormous potential exists for mHealth devices to advance medical research and improve patient care. Exactly how to reach that potential is still unclear.

That’s why a group of experts has recommended that ongoing mHealth research efforts focus specifically on how to streamline and standardize data collection by leveraging public-private collaborations designed to better understand how to effectively use information generated from rapidly advancing wearables and mobile apps.

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A workgroup of digital health experts, assembled by the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy and the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Heath, released a report on Tuesday with five recommendations to advance the use of mHeatlh devices.

  • Establish a collaborative research group: Dubbed the “Learning mHealth Research Community,” the workgroup says this approach would bring together a variety of mHealth stakeholders to “create a centralized hub” that would advance the use of mHealth technologies, establish best practices and identify areas where mHealth can have the biggest impact.
  • Assist new mHealth companies by leveraging existing platforms: Developers are often unaware of open source frameworks and standards that can save time and money by building interoperability into new devices. A continuously updated guide of “pre-competitive information” can help new companies meet interoperability standards.
  • Improve data integrity: Developing trade organization standards would ensure data generated through mHealth devices is consistent and accurate.
  • Utilize unique engagement opportunities: Researchers can leverage mHealth devices to engage with study participants by updating them on the progress of the study and explaining results. 
  • Give patients more control: Allowing patients and consumers to control what data researchers and providers can access will reveal why users opt out of data sharing and streamline recruitment.

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With these five focus areas in mind, the workgroup acknowledges that mHealth still faces a number of challenges pervasive throughout healthcare, including interoperability, data standardization and cybersecurity. But the promise of a new, continuous data source offers a significant upside.

“In particular, real-world evidence generation will be greatly enhanced by inclusion of data from apps and wearables to complement existing data sources,” the report states. “Mobile health apps and wearables can help fill data gaps by providing a wealth of real-time, high frequency, and longitudinal data.”