The Health sector is one of the most active and vital and the combination of words such as digital technology and innovation to the term “Health” create scenarios and settings among the most inspirational, promising and visionary.
When talking about digital and health one cannot avoid reference to the area of #mHealth.
A trendy theme, that of mHealth, which IMS has recently addressed, investigating in particular the “Patient Adoption of mHealth” and in general the use, the evidence and the current resistance to a mass use of such applications in the process of health management.
According to IMS’s report (available at www.imshealth.com), the number of downloads of mHealth Apps has more than doubled in just three years.
But what are these mHealth apps?
mHealth apps are a set of applications and content created for mobile devices with the aim to “intervene”, in some way, on one or more issues related to the field of Health. In general, mHealth apps can be grouped into two main categories:
- Wellness, which includes fitness apps (e.g. Fitbit), lifestyle and nutrition (MyFitnessPal, etc.) and that find a place in the area of behavioral change and preventative wellbeing.
- Disease & treatment management, which instead includes apps useful in the management of specific pathologies, and that support all disease stages ranging from diagnosis to treatment to control (e.g. Amicomed for the control of blood pressure, One Drop the management of diabetes, amiko.io to improve treatment compliance).
- selecting the best mHealth tools, which have the potential to be really useful for improving care. A remarkable tool in this sense is the Digital Health StoryMap, an innovative tool that brings together a selection of the best startups and most promising solutions in Digital Health, categorizing them according to different parameters: cycle of health and care, impact on specific diseases or areas of the body, and use at different times of the day.
- establishing for those regulated guidelines, as regards the management of sensitive data and privacy.
- including the best mHealth projects into effective care protocols and models.
- making them refundable and available to the highest number of people.
An interesting finding reveals that more than half of the over 26,864 iOS and Android apps, selected among the most used and analyzed in IMS Health report, fall in the Wellness area.
Data confirm that patients have a strong desire for healthiness and a strong awareness that to stay healthy one needs to live healthily and take care of oneself before developing a disease. But this does not only concern patients. Even among health providers a trend has set in recommending mHealth to their patients, mainly to change their lifestyle and, to a lesser extent, also to manage and control certain diseases.
The report also shows another interesting point, that of a resistance to the use of mHealth as an effective tool in the healing process, which is difficult to explain if only we considered how many problems concerning the traditional process of health management (poor control of lifestyle; misuse, inappropriate or suboptimal use of drugs resulting in non-adherence to treatment and subsequent failure in reaching therapeutic objectives; the ensuing frustration for both physicians and patients, and the raising of the care costs…) may be solved or reduced with the use of appropriately selected digital tools.
The reason for this resistance?
Lack of sufficiently strong clinical evidence warranting the costs of producing mHealth and the inclusion of this into treatment protocols. Moreover, let us not forget the problems of accessibility to this kind of tool and the always delicate issue of the management of privacy and personal data.
How do we fill these gaps?
By making sure that all the stakeholders of the health system (app developers, institutional bodies and regulators, payers, the health system, health providers and patients) are pulling in the same direction, i.e. by:
- The example of Tinnitracks, an innovative app for the treatment of tinnitus that, while not using any medication, is acknowledged in all respects as a “therapy”, shows us that all this is possible and must be pursued.
What is our role, as Digital Innovators?
Thanks to intuition, study, the testing of always new technologies, to the boldness and daring of a few pioneers, the concept of #mHealth has evolved quickly and simple applications for mobile devices have become much more: permanently connected devices, wearables, sensors and health appendix devices are no longer science fiction, they are a reality. Very soon we will be wearing sensors that can predict a heart attack weeks before it would happen and turn a lot of emergency surgery into planned outpatient surgery.
Without fearing a future in which the traditional interaction physician/patient will be completely replaced, it is easy to predict that technology will become even more present and important in improving outcomes, in reducing costs and in the evolution of the whole health process.
I like to think that, with the support of all the stakeholders in the health system, it will soon be possible to build a virtuous circle of augmented care which, transferring the concepts of augmented reality to health, will always look “beyond” the traditional concept of care.
But this also means that soon we will no longer be happy with the doctor prescribing the use of physical activity tracking and calorie intake apps to more sedentary and patients who overeat; nor with the doctor becoming part of the online community through his patients’ apps to constantly prompt them on how to take care of themselves; nor with the doctor who, along with a treatment, recommends the app to keep track of it. Not only and not anymore, because all this is already available now!
We can no longer think that the device connected to the medicine box, or the alert system that warns us when we forget to take our medications, is the future that will improve adherence to therapy. Because this is already available too, now!
And even the wearable that constantly tracks vital parameters, that alerts a patient and his/her kin in the event of suspicious changes, is not science fiction. This is already available… and this is already available now!
I like to think that #mHealth is the present. What I expect from this present is that we will soon find a way to integrate all these little gems of health technology in a systematic and widespread manner in the everyday life of all patients.
I like to think that #mHealth will soon be the past and that, as such, will soon be revised and further developed.
I like to think that we digital health innovators, can already focus on a new future and that the time is already ripe for a new era to be explored and designed: the Augmented Healthcare Era.
This is one of the pieces of the Transformation in Healthcare booklet inspired by the Frontiers Health conference.