Interoperability a key component for scalable mHealth

Interoperability is a critical step in supporting scalable mobile healthcare solutions, and can bring many benefits to providers and payers, but adoption of standards and guidelines has been inconsistent, according to an article from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The problem, says PwC, is the status quo of proprietary, closed end-to-end solutions "intended to create a dedicated customer base and a competitive advantage" resulting in systems that are "disparate and difficult to integrate" in which "only the vendor seems to know the secret on how to unlock the data."

A separate PwC-commissioned report found that a mere 53 percent of doctors say that mHealth applications and services they use work with their organization's information technology and even fewer say they are integrated with technology in other parts of the health system. The lack of interoperability between technologies is often to blame, the article concludes.

"For a change in the status quo, buyers of the market i.e., providers, payers and regulators must impose pressure on their incumbent vendors to enable interoperability as part of their value proposition," states the article. "In the end, interoperability across diverse systems and vendors is essential to create truly scalable mHealth solutions."

Interoperability reduces complexity and allows for faster and less costly integration of devices, according to the article. Based on interviews with different stakeholders who develop and deploy interoperable medical devices solutions, PwC estimates that integration of an interoperable device into a mHealth solution or an electronic medical record takes only one to three weeks instead of about three months (the time it typically takes to develop and test the code). It can also save $40,000 to $50,000 in design costs, the article finds.

PwC observes a "mixed approach in the adoption of standards and application programming interfaces (APIs)," with some successful mHealth apps providing "open or semi-open APIs allowing software to communicate with each other across a dozen other devices and apps." However, according to PwC, published interoperability guidelines for connected health devices from the Continua Health Alliance, a non-profit industry organization that certifies mHealth solutions globally, are being inconsistently adopted.

Similarly, a recent report from the mHealth Alliance found that the lack of standards and technological integration are a key barrier to scaling mobile healthcare in low- and middle-income countries. According to the report, health systems in both developed and developing countries continue to struggle to realize the full potential of mHealth, and more generally technology, in part due to limited interoperability.

In particular, the mHealth Alliance concludes that there are significant gaps in the capacity and participation of low- and middle-income countries in the development and adoption of health informatics standards, of which the largest challenges are lack of local informatics human resource capacity and insufficient investment into standards activities, which prevents productive engagement with international standards development organizations.

To learn more:
- read the PwC article