Mobile health just beginning to break barriers

Most songwriters born before the year 1987 may remember that collaboration was a more arduous, physical process before Apple's GarageBand software application, smartphones apps and even email became widely adopted. Historically, the process involved meeting another human in person to play physical instruments that produced sound. Geographic boundaries actually hindered the songwriting process as time and space seemed to have a limited number of workarounds. One of these solutions involved sending recordings of song ideas through the mail where possible turnaround times hovered between days or weeks.

In contrast, the idea and act of sharing ideas in 2012 has been greatly reduced to the near effortless push of buttons and a decent Wi-Fi connection.

It's with that thought in mind I came across the report that four diabetic climbers have set their sights to ascend to the base camp of Mount Everest. Using an mHealth system including a glucometer and tablet, their vital signs will be monitored by their regular physicians to assist them in managing their meal times and blood sugar levels. At 16,900 feet, these monitors are expected to provide real-time data crossing not only national, but international boundaries. Just as recording technology has put the power of songwriting into the hands of content creators though modes of inexpensive recording and a medium to share ideas, so has the promise of mHealth unleashed the capability to influence patients' health and physicians' workflow in ways already apparent and those currently unimaginable.

With a thus far unabated rollout of calorie counting smartphone apps, health system text messaging initiatives, patient portal improvements and more, technology is priming consumers to take their health into their own hands through stripped barriers. From a peer-reviewed prospective, a Denmark-based provisional study found that an online dialogue between patients and their healthcare providers garnered a "feeling of security" for patients along with a sense of freedom of being readily available to contact their physician.

While there is concern that some apps may not be best suited for elder consumers--a group that is more likely to need such health-benefiting applications--the mHealth movement and it's products still are in a nascent stage. For reflection, the iPhone was unveiled in 2007 with its development beginning in 2004. It's been less than seven years since this now ubiquitous tool found its ways into the limelight for consumers, while currently there are some reports that two out of every three family physicians use smartphones. Mobile health's product and usability more than likely will improve with time as use cases become clearer and functionality for applications is narrowly defined.

And yet, even in its current stage, mHealth is a big hit among younger physicians. The technology allows today's physicians the work/life balance that their predecessors may not have experienced as ties to an office environment for tasks such as documentation and record reviewing gradually are being removed.

I suspect that while great strides of progress have been made in the mHealth arena benefiting both patients and providers, there remains much more innovation and initiatives to come that have yet to be seen. Some people still are getting used to the idea of taking a picture on a phone, much less face recognition technology. With more thought and creativity being funneled into mHealth initiatives and products, I imagine that with adoption, patient empowerment will spark a sea change in how we view our health and capabilities.

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