Federal research funding for mHealth is welcome news

The National Institutes of Health recently launched a substantive research effort to propel development of new mHealth tools. The effort is aimed at boosting communication between physicians, patients and providers, and improving patient self-management via new tools that will help patients stick to treatment regimens and recovery requirements.

The funding effort, a multiyear initiative, lists a dozen potential research topics; four include: 

  • Tools for citizens in underserved populations
  • Integrated portable imaging technologies for monitoring health support systems
  • Networked consumer-driven tools for engaging users in improving health
  • Software and hardware tools for telehealth technologies

This mHealth-focused grant effort is phenomenal news for several reasons. For starters, it promotes the creation of new tools and pushes for increased innovation.

Second, it puts taxpayer funds to good use, as it ultimately will benefit the public sector.

Third, it ensures that development of new mHealth tools won't just fall on vendors, start-ups and legacy mobile device makers.

The landscape for new mobile healthcare tools is vast. For instance, a recently published report projected that the global mHealth market will grow to $21.5 billion by 2018.

But mHealth is an industry that still could be considered in a pre-infancy stage, with an expansive opportunity given current aging demographics, and the desire of government to make healthcare more efficient while boosting services, accountability and patient care. What's more, according to a survey of chief information officers in several industries--including healthcare--the healthcare industry lags in mobile strategy and app development.

To that end, this funding program comes at a critical time for healthcare in the U.S.

More mobile healthcare tools certainly can help to improve care for patients. For example, a family with several children likely would love to avoid numerous trips to the pediatrician for typical issues such as earaches.

A new tool coming to market later this year, the CellScope Oto, promises to avoid that scenario by allowing users to share photos of an ear canal with a doctor using a special phone add-on and software, the New York Times recently reported. While the device isn't free and a physician will charge a certain rate for such telemedicine consults, it certainly will be more cost-efficient than a dozen trips to a doctor's office. And that's just one example of how mHealth tools can benefit healthcare consumers.

Any effort that can spur development of similar tools bodes well for everyone in the mHealth industry, most notably healthcare consumers.

Isn't that how every federal dollar should be spent? -  Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)