An expansive study by Cambridge University researchers, in partnership with wireless networking vendor China Mobile, found that mobile health devices and apps have a far greater reach than previously thought. And they're heading for some new frontiers as well, according to the study authors.
The 120-page report, released in late April, covers a lot of ground, from existing, well-understood technologies like telehealth used for at-home, remote monitoring to less-studied options such as using smartphones to track and monitor public health crises.
Study authors indicate that, in their opinion, the three most intriguing new markets for mHealth are public health, primary care and emergency care.
In the public health arena, the study examines the role of cell phones and smartphones in disease surveillance projects, such as one in Brazil, where health workers are gathering data on an outbreak of Dengue Fever.
For primary care, mobile devices will continue to extend the reach of physicians, the study says. The authors point to an emerging program in Tasmania that uses mobile imaging to provide breast cancer screening.
On the emergency care front, mobile healthcare devices will play an even bigger role, going forward, in responding to natural disasters like Haiti's earthquake in 2010. Smartphones also will offer personal emergency response capability, wireless fall-prevention, and the ability to distribute calls to groups of qualified specialists in an emergency, researchers project.
Researchers also saw a big opportunity for mHealth in drug verification. While it's not a top-of-mind issue here in the U.S., counterfeit drugs are a major concern in the developing world, researchers point out. New coding and tracking technologies can use smartphones to verify that drugs delivered into rural or compromised areas are authentic.
Another interesting finding: While U.S. doctors and hospitals have lagged somewhat in adopting online scheduling and verification systems for their patients, it's actually one of the fastest growing health functions in China and other countries, the researchers report.
The findings were based on a literature search, interviews in the UK, and fieldwork in China through late 2010.