Mobile health is moving from the periphery of healthcare IT to dead center, according to a new report from the global mHealth research group GSMA.
First, the group's latest report, "Integrating Healthcare: The Role and Value of Mobile Operators in eHealth," reinforces its prediction from February that the market will grow to $27 billion by 2017.
But perhaps more importantly, the report says, mobile health platforms will become core deliverers of information exchange and care integration, the researchers say.
"These mobile operators, and others, have clearly expanded their remit from direct-to-consumer health solutions, to solutions that support core clinical and operational processes within the hospital," the report's authors write. "From this traditional base, mobile operators are moving to solutions that connect the various stakeholders in the healthcare system to the patients to provide fully integrated care."
That integrated care issue will be central to improving quality outcomes for the most frequent, and costly patients--chronic care.
"Evidence has also shown that integrated delivery in healthcare is essential in the management of chronic diseases, which are proving to be the most significant cost driver in healthcare today," the researchers continue. "The suite of solutions that mobile operators can offer based on their core capabilities can support this integration."
The report indicates this shift is already occurring with wireless providers like AT&T contracting to provide health information exchange services for Indiana, as well as for Baylor Healthcare network in Texas.
And it's also being powered by consumers' desire to receive healthcare outside of the traditional hospital and clinic setting--and payers' desire to reduce costs the same way. Mobile systems will be key to offering preventive wellness and maintenance care, as well as follow-up monitoring and management after a patient is discharged, to prevent readmission, the researchers say.
Clinicians, too, are driving mHealth to the center of healthcare, desiring to consult, cooperate and work with others on a patient's care team without having to be in the same location.
Mobile health has major challenges, though, to meet all these demands. The greatest of these is being able to integrate different mobile devices with core IT systems and standardize mobile protocols for a myriad of apps, software and other functions, the researchers add.
GSMA's conclusions bring up a question we've raised here at FierceMobileHealthcare multiple times in the past year: Will telecom carriers and vendors end up dominating the mHealth market in the end? GSMA points to a number of AT&T projects--remote patient monitoring platforms, telehealth products, etc.--that make it seem very possible. We'll be interested to see how it plays out.