Increased device adoption will make 2013 a banner year for mHealth

By any account, 2012 was a breakout year for mobile healthcare. When measuring the progress of mHealth over the past year, the best metrics are perhaps the raw statistics that show physicians, providers and other healthcare professionals are using smartphones, laptops and tablets in their work in unprecedented numbers.

According to the results of the 2nd Annual HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey released in December, the percent of clinicians using apps to actively engage in direct patient care has grown in the past year in several key areas, including: collecting data at the bedside (45 percent compared to 30 percent); using bar code readers on mobile devices (38 percent compared to 23 percent); monitoring data from medical devices (34 percent compared to 27 percent); and capturing visual representation of patient data (27 percent compared to 13 percent).

While healthcare organizations surveyed by HIMSS indicated that they increasingly are providing patients/consumers with access to mobile devices to promote healthcare (36 percent, up from 32 percent one year ago), there still is a reluctance to provide apps to consumers, with only 13 percent of respondents reporting that their organizations had developed an app for patient/consumer use.

But, patients/consumers aren't waiting around for healthcare organizations to provide them with these apps. Research2guidance estimated that 247 million mobile phone users downloaded health apps in 2012, nearly double the number from the previous year.  

If those numbers aren't enough, at the 4th annual mHealth Summit held in December in Washington, D.C., a record breaking 4,050 participants from 56 countries and all 50 states attended the event. In addition, the 2012 mHealth Summit boasted an exhibit hall with 300 exhibitors, 50 percent larger than last year's conference.  

All of these statistics reflect a growing interest in mobile healthcare and the tremendous changes taking place in the way medical professionals view the practice of medicine through the prism of mHealth, as well as the ground swell of patient/consumer use of mobile devices and apps.    

Looking ahead, the most anticipated mHealth event of 2013 is undoubtedly the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's planned issuance of its final guidance to industry on the regulation of mobile medical applications. When finalized, the FDA's rules will bring closure to how the agency intends to apply its regulatory authority to a select subset of mHealth apps.

What we do know from its draft guidance released in July 2011 is that FDA believes that mobile apps can be regulated if they affect the performance of a "currently regulated medical device," posing "the same or similar potential risk to the public health as currently regulated devices if they fail to function as intended."

We'll see what the FDA comes up with. Either way, 2013 is shaping up to be a banner year for mHealth now and over the longer term. As the HIMSS survey revealed, two-thirds of health IT executives believe the use of mobile technology will substantially or dramatically impact the delivery of healthcare in the future. That is indeed something to look forward to. - Greg (@Slabodkin)