mHealth and telehealth: Part of the eHealth tool bag

Lately, I'm seeing a pattern in the way that mobile healthcare is being co-opted by some of the big conference organizers. In March, I wrote about the fact that at HIMSS 2013 the organization's embrace of mHealth was never more evident. Similarly, ATA's 2013 annual conference held in May was billed as "the world's largest meeting and trade show focused on telemedicine and mHealth."   

Tomorrow, the three-day mHealth + Telehealth World 2013 conference kicks off in Boston. The 5th annual mHealth World Congress and the second annual Telehealth Congress have joined forces to showcase solutions from what are arguably the two hottest areas of eHealth. Yes, that's right. I said mHealth is a part of eHealth. Back in March, I was taken to task by a blogger when I stated in my column that "mHealth is a component of eHealth," citing the World Health Organization's definition.

Nevertheless, I'm going to stick with the WHO's definition of eHealth, which is defined as the "cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and health related fields, including health care services, health surveillance, health literature, health education, knowledge and research." As such, eHealth is a general term which includes four distinct but related components: mHealth, health information systems, telemedicine, and distance learning. I've also seen the term "mobile eHealth" used, referring to the the use of mobile phones, tablet computers and PDAs for direct communication with health providers or accessing health-related information.

This week's mHealth + Telehealth World conference is a poignant reminder of the synergy between these two critical components of eHealth. Fueled by healthcare reform aimed at cutting in-patient costs and post-acute care strategies designed to reduce readmissions, there is a natural affinity between mHealth and telehealth. Both are "essential to achieve accessibility, interoperability and sustainability in consumer and accountable care models," according to the organizers of mHealth + Telehealth World. However, that is not to say there aren't significant roadblocks on the path towards that goal. 

Earlier this month, a survey from Menlo Park, Calif.-based Spyglass Consulting Group revealed that more than half of accountable care organizations question the clinical effectiveness of remote patient monitoring and their ability to generate a positive return on investment (ROI). The results were based on more than 100 telephone interviews with healthcare organizations involved in telehealth and telemedicine including home health agencies, standalone community hospitals, multi-hospital delivery systems, government agencies and payers. In the post-acute care market, it seems clear that healthcare providers will be more willing to pay for telehealth if it is part of a total post-acute care model.

As leverage to push healthcare providers to implement effective post-acute care plans, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in October 2012 began penalizing U.S. hospitals for readmissions. mHealth and telehealth are potential technologies in the eHealth tool bag that can significantly improve clinical outcomes while also achieving the long-term goals of moving toward greater continuity of care and reducing costs through the avoidance of unnecessary duplication of services. Is it any wonder that $500 million in mHealth and telehealth investment has been made in the first three months of 2013 alone?  

"Real world virtual care models to transform the delivery of care and improve ROI" is the theme of the mHealth + Telehealth World conference. That is the forward-looking and hopeful message you will hear this week in Boston. - Greg (@Slabodkin