Brookings: Reimbursement issues, murky regs top mHealth challenges

The top challenge facing mobile health technology innovation and adoption in the U.S. is the lack of federal health agency and healthcare payer reimbursement, according to a new report from the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

But those aren't the lone hurdles to mHealth proliferation, according to the report's authors. The industry, described as being in its "infancy" in the the report, "mHealth in China and the U.S.: How Mobile Technology is Transforming Healthcare in the World's Two Largest Economies," also is dealing with looming federal regulations as more mobile devices fall under medical device rules and a lack of support by public agencies.

"It is difficult for device-makers and app-developers to innovate when they are not sure which rules apply and what standards they need to meet. Clarifying rules and regulations would improve the adoption of mHealth practices," the report's authors write.

Despite the challenges, the report notes rapid growth of mHealth in the U.S., citing research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that projects annual mHealth revenues are expected to reach $23 billion globally by 2017, and that China and the U.S. will have the largest mHealth markets, accounting for one-third of the global market.

As FierceMobileHealthcare recently reported, mobile monitoring services are cited as the dominant technology propelling mHealth ahead, and the wearable technology market is predicted to hit $6 billion by 2016.

The Brookings report offers several recommendations to spur mHealth technology and adoption, including:

  • Policymakers need to speed up mHealth development by eliminating uncertainty with regulations and clarify rules
  • Regulators need to revamp reimbursement policies regarding mHealth services and products
  • Public authorities should encourage the use of mobile devices, such as smartphones, to grow consumer adoption of mHealth products and services

"Removing these barriers would encourage health professionals to make use of newly-emerging ways to diagnose and treat patients," the report's authors write.

The PROTECT Act, a bill introduced in the Senate last month, removes U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation from some high-risk clinical decision support software, mobile medical apps and other medical device functionality. 

Various groups are opposed to this bill, though. For instance, the mHealth Regulatory Coalition says the legislation poses serious risks to patients and that Congress must play a key role in ensuring FDA guidance on mobile applications.

For more information:
- read the study report from Brookings

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