Posted on Nov 16, 2020, 7 p.m.
Mobile health is revolutionizing healthcare, providing patients with access to critical services, personal data tracking and doctors, regardless of their location. As the number of health applications for smartphones, wearables, tablets and other digital technologies grows, more people will use them to take control of their own healthcare.
More than 97,000 health and fitness applications are currently available for mobile and tablet devices, according to HealthWorks Collective. EMarketer reports that more than 87% of U.S. smartphone owners have used health and fitness apps this year—a 27% increase from 2019. Zion Market Research expects the mobile health apps market to exceed $111 billion by 2025, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 38% from 2019.
It’s important for those interested in health information management to understand mobile health’s role in shaping current healthcare careers and its potential role in impacting future changes to the industry.
What Is Mobile Health, and Why Is It Important?
Mobile health takes many forms. The World Health Organization has not yet established a singular definition of mobile health or set a standard for its role in healthcare. However, WHO’s Global Observatory for eHealth defines it as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as [cell] phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.” Mobile health devices and apps can be used to track a range of data from fitness levels and heart rates to medication dosages and sleep cycles.
Mobile health is important because it helps patients take control of monitoring their own health, which is crucial amid a growing shortage of healthcare workers. Mercer’s “U.S. Healthcare External Labor Market Analysis” found that the U.S. will need to hire 2.3 million new healthcare workers by 2025 to properly care for its aging population of baby boomers. Rural areas in particular are facing a critical shortage of physicians and educational programs for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, people in rural communities are more likely than those in other communities to be elderly, have low incomes and suffer from chronic illnesses. As a result, they may have difficulty traveling to doctors’ offices or paying for their treatments.
Mobile health also helps healthcare providers conduct virtual visits and gather data from patients in developing countries, where many may not have access to necessary care services. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 6 million people in developing countries die each year due to lack of quality healthcare solutions. In some countries, only 35% of people receive the correct diagnoses for their symptoms, contributing to increased fatalities and spread of diseases. Humanitarian organizations have begun helping vulnerable populations use mobile health solutions such as texting and smartphone cameras to receive diagnoses and lifesaving healthcare education.
What Are Mobile Health Solutions?
Physicians and patients can use a range of mobile health solutions to improve their quality of care and access to critical wellness resources. Common mobile health solutions include:
Online or Remote Consultations
Instead of having to schedule in-person appointments and waste time and money commuting to a doctor’s office, patients can conduct virtual visits. They might use video conferencing software platforms, digital tools provided by their doctor’s office or hospital or third-party mobile apps.
Electronic Health Records
Electronic health records (EHRs) can help patients and healthcare providers more easily access, transfer and update information. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, EHRs can be instrumental in determining the best healthcare treatments for patients, identifying possible risks among similar groups and recommending preventive measures for certain populations.
Mobile Data Tracking
Patients can use health and fitness apps to track their personal health data, such as their insulin levels and body temperature. Physicians can also access this data in real-time to quickly make diagnoses, identify life-threatening changes in vital statistics and analyze sudden symptoms.
Internet-connected medical devices can also collect data and transmit it to other devices, healthcare providers and EHRs. Examples of these devices include insulin pumps, heart monitors and ingestible sensors. If these devices use artificial intelligence or machine learning technologies, they may even be able to provide diagnoses and contact relevant specialists on their own.
Wearable medical devices, such as smart watches, are growing in popularity. According to Global Market Insights, the market for these products is expected to reach $87 billion by 2025, up from $8 billion in 2018. The iTBra, for example, can detect cancer in breast tissue, and the Apple Watch can track atrial fibrillation based on heartbeat data.
The Benefits of Mobile Health Technology
Mobile health solutions can yield positive outcomes for both patients and healthcare professionals. Key benefits of mobile health technology include:
- Allowing patients and their physicians to maintain consistent contact through virtual consultations, rather than relying on in-person appointments
- Providing care for elderly patients who need constant support due to chronic conditions and patients who cannot easily leave their homes
- Helping patients access essential health information quickly, which can minimize extra costs such as for unnecessary hospital visits
- Tracking symptoms in real-time for quick diagnoses and expert feedback
- Personalizing health data and treatment programs for each patient
- Reducing human error through electronic record-keeping and real-time data collection
- Allowing patients to track and monitor their own medical conditions and be proactive about potential treatments
- Reducing the spread of disease and infection by conducting virtual appointments
- Decreasing hospital costs by cutting down on paper usage and waste
- Providing reminders to patients to take their medicine, check their vitals or record their symptoms that don’t require the intervention of their physician or caretaker
How Do Mobile Health Apps Help Patients?
Mobile health apps put vital healthcare solutions, expert insights and educational resources right into patients’ hands. These apps can help people with a range of health and wellness tasks, such as tracking cancer treatment programs, maintaining exercise regimens, improving mental health practices and supporting breastfeeding routines. They can also integrate with EHRs to ensure patient data is comprehensive and up to date.
According to 2019 data from Gallup, 34% of Americans have used a wearable fitness tracker and 32% have tracked their health data on a mobile app. Mobile health apps are most popular among young demographics; adults under 55 are twice as likely as their older counterparts to use these apps. Most importantly, they are effective: More than 80% of mobile health app users say they are helpful.
According to Business Insider, some of the most common types of mobile health apps include:
- Diabetes apps, such as for monitoring blood sugar levels
- Pregnancy apps, such as for tracking a baby’s growth
- Weight loss apps, such as for recording progress and fitness gains
- Chronic illness apps, such as for documenting symptoms over time
More mobile health apps will likely continue to emerge as technologies evolve and major companies such as Apple and Google invest in building their own healthcare programs and devices.
What Mobile Health Resources Are Available?
Many mobile health resources are available for people who want to track their own wellness data and become more informed about their health.
The AliveCor mobile health app gives people the ability to take medical-grade electrocardiograms (EKGs) from their mobile devices with simple sensors. This tool can be used to quickly, remotely and affordably detect health issues such as atrial fibrillation and tachycardia. App users can also sign up to receive regular cardiologist reviews of their EKGs and monthly heart health reports.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross mobile app provides a range of educational resources such as first-aid information, veterinary advice and alerts for natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. The app also includes specialized services such as Hero Care, which is used by military members and their families to access emergency preparedness tools.
The Apple Health app connects with users’ iPhone and Apple Watch to track their fitness, report environmental stressors, monitor their heart rate and report their health trends over time.
The Fitbit app and wearable devices help people set fitness and wellness goals, and track their progress toward reaching milestones. Fitbit also includes a sleep tracker to monitor how much time people spend in different sleep stages and suggest how they can improve their sleep for better rest and recovery.
Glucose Buddy is a diabetes management platform for tracking blood sugar, insulin, weight, physical activity and food intake. People can also join a community of fellow app users for support, advice and insights into managing their diabetes.
Welch Allyn’s iExaminer app allows physicians to take pictures of patients’ eyes and retinal nerves right from their smartphones. It connects the mobile camera to the PanOptic ophthalmoscope and captures high-resolution imagery to be stored and shared as needed. These pictures can then be used by physicians to collaborate with peers and educate patients about their optic health.
Medisafe helps patients easily fill their prescriptions, track their medicine dosages and apply for refills. The company partners with leading pharmaceutical brands and healthcare providers to deliver personalized solutions and help patients stay on top of their treatment plans.
MIM Software provides physicians and healthcare facilities with mobile imaging for radiation oncology, neuroscience imaging, cardiac imaging and radiology. With remote access to these resources, healthcare providers can more easily share imagery with patients and colleagues, provide feedback and collaborate on diagnoses and treatment plans.
Strava is a mobile fitness app for runners and cyclists. People can use the app to track their activity, analyze their performance stats and find trails that are popular among a built-in network of athletes. Strava also syncs to devices such as GPS tools and heart rate monitors to provide a more comprehensive view of users’ progress.
Tensio helps people manage their high blood pressure with personalized coaching, access to medical records and tracking data for factors such as weight and sodium intake. Tensio also sends alerts and informative messages to help people stay on target with their health goals.
With plenty of mobile health resources available, it’s important for individuals to research their options and consult with their healthcare providers to find the best solutions for their health and wellness needs.
This article was written by the healthinformatics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a resource guide. As a major research university, UIC is dedicated to providing world-class education, and as a university of national and international stature, the UIC is committed to creating and disseminating new knowledge through its innovative curriculum.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement