Commentary: Obstacles continue to stand in way of mHealth adoption

Three powerful forces--the unsustainability of current healthcare spending, the rapid growth of wireless connectivity, and the need for more precise and individualized medicine--are converging and creating an "exuberance for mHealth," argues a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

However, the opinion piece, co-authored by Steven Steinhubl (pictured right), M.D., director of digital medicine at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in La Jolla, Calif., and Eric Topol, M.D., director of the STSI and chief academic officer for Scripps Health, makes the case that there are "multiple obstacles to the acceptance and widespread utilization of mHealth technologies."

These obstacles include: the complexities of the healthcare system (especially the current drivers of reimbursement); clinicians concerned about the further weakening of the patient-physician relationship and possible increase in their workload; challenges to the appropriate use and validation of mHealth technologies; and the increasingly high likelihood of useless and possibly even dangerous apps being downloaded by unsuspecting consumers.

In their article, the authors offer examples of how mHealth technologies can transform healthcare "by addressing inefficient practices and challenges faced by consumers and clinicians in the current system." Their answer to the central question and title of their article, "Can mobile health technologies transform healthcare?," seems to be a qualified "yes" provided that these obstacles to mHealth adoption can be overcome. 

Topol (pictured left), author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine," asserts that over the next five years there will be a fundamental shift for who accesses and "owns" medical data and information. "Although this is presently in the doctor's domain, and has been for medicine's long history, the biggest single advance will be the about-face to true consumer empowerment," he wrote in a guide released earlier this year. 

One major obstacle cited in the JAMA commentary is the lack of evidence which is holding back the adoption of health apps, in large part, because physicians remain wary of formally recommending these apps. "When such a high level of interest and promise coexists with such a paucity of evidence, there is potential for hype to dominate the discussion around mHealth," warn the authors.

"We have to be able to provide an evidence-based roadmap to show how we get there," Steinhubl said last week at FierceMobileHealthcare's executive breakfast panel on patient engagement at the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. "There's a great need for more evidence as we move forward."

Similarly, in an exclusive interview with FierceMobileHealthcare in September, Steinhubl talked about how he and his colleagues are rigorously studying emerging technologies to find "hard evidence" that such tools can have a real impact on patient care.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA commentary

Related Articles:
Scripps study to assess ability of mobile devices to reduce health costs
Eric Topol: Docs must adopt health IT more quickly
Eric Topol: Medical technology revolution needs validation to move forward

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