Define m-health, but then let's move on to the issues that actually affect care

Last week, I voiced my disdain for the term "mHealth" with a capital H. There's something about the arbitrary, irregular capitalization that bothers this grammar nut.

Admittedly, it's a small sticking point. A more salient debate in m-health (my preferred spelling) is over the actual definition of mobile health. That drama is playing out on the 3G Doctor blog, where several months ago, David Doherty, head of business development at Ireland-based mobile healthcare software vendor 3G Doctor, took a stab at defining this field. (Still, should we really be arguing over that, either?)

"Despite me thinking it's pretty simple, there seem to be a variety of different ideas on this which are illustrated perfectly by the rambling definition you'll find at Wikipedia," Doherty wrote.

For the record, Wikipedia's definition currently says:"Mobile eHealth or mHealth broadly encompasses the use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies as they are integrated within increasingly mobile and wireless healthcare delivery systems. The field broadly encompasses the use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies in healthcare delivery." That's slightly less rambling than the entry Doherty posted back in March, so someone's clearly edited the page since then.

The Wikipedia entry cited the work of Robert Istepanian, a professor of data communications at Kingston University in London, who defined m-health as "emerging mobile communications and network technologies for healthcare." The entry, at least as it read six months ago, also mentioned "embedded wireless devices that track health-related parameters."

Doherty takes issue with those characterizations, but particularly Istepanian's, because he says it suggests that mobile communications--now a $1 trillion global industry--still is "emerging."

The posting attracted little attention until very recently, when Istepanian himself wrote a scathing reply. "I am writing to clarify and also to repudiate the comments from the author on this blog on the m-health definition," Istepanian says. He notes that he first wrote papers on the subject in 1999 that referred to "unwired e-med" and in 2003, where he first used the term "m-health."

"The word concerning the 'emerging mobile and network technolgies' in my original definition was to infer to then what was yet in the development phases and yet to be standarised and commercialised of the 3.5G and other beyond 3G technologies and networks [not cellular] technolgies [such as the current Wi-Max)] networks for use in healthcare applications," Istepanian continues.

"The author [Doherty] should have been aware of these facts and information before writing such comment(s) on this blog and should have read my papers first before posting any such misleading information.

"I request that the author to rectify and withdrew his comments on my definition on m-health."


Several other comments have been posted since Istepanian weighed in, but I can't make heads or tails of them. What I do know is that there's a brewing controversy over the scope of mobile healthcare. Does it include wireless sensors, or just cellular technology? Is it still emerging? Probably, but does it really matter?

Perhaps it's time to stop haggling over terminology and focus on real issues, such as convincing insurers to cover remote and home monitoring services. Either way, I'm still going to add the hyphen in m-health. - Neil