From the news that Fitbit (recently acquired by Google for $2.1 billion) is soon to enable users to check for evidence of atrial fibrillation to a mHealth wearable being developed to help fire departments monitor the health of firefighters in dangerous locations to the mHealth program using ingestible sensors with remote patients to ensure medication adherence … hang on to your health hats, folks, there’s a stampede coming, and it’s got ‘mobile’ written all over it. We recently explored how the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and emerging technologies transforming healthcare and a complete breakdown of digital health services and technologies. Today we’re exploring how mHealth apps are redefining the medical sector.
That’s right, the health and medical sector has been touted as one of the top three industries being transformed by the humble mobile device, and will likely retain its spot on the podium for some time if the figures are anything to go by. Right now, there are more than 260,000 mHealth apps on the market, and last year alone, there were over 400 million medical app downloads (a 15% increase on the global totals reported in 2016 and 2017). Come 2025, the global medical apps market size is expected to grow to over 11 billion dollars – which is some leap when you take a glance at where we were in the same space only a few short years ago …
So what’s it all about? Well in a (big) nutshell; the costs, the waiting times, the tens of thousands of healthcare professionals struggling to do what’s needed in time they just don’t have, scarce resources, even scarcer space, and ever-growing patient numbers… Like every industry, healthcare comes with its own set of problems, and like every industry, mobile brings the technology to carve a far smoother, far more efficient way forward. But what does that look like? Just how is healthcare mobility redefining how we all ‘do’ health? And more importantly, what does a great healthcare app look like? Well, it’s funny you should ask …
Apps in healthcare
Mobile health – or mHealth – encompasses the provision of medicine and public health services through mobile devices, or as the WHO says more succinctly, “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.” So what do you think about when you think mHealth? A mobile app that tracks your activities throughout the day? Maybe one that reminds you that you’ve not reached your 5-a-day target? What about one that monitors your moods?
While in some ways you’d be right, when it comes to mHealth, we’re looking at services that allow healthcare professionals and providers to connect with their patients, staff and suppliers faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively than traditional means have so far delivered. While this sounds fairly innocuous, and in a way, very much akin to the benefits mobile brings to all industries, from oil and gas and fintech, to energy and industrial IoT, when it comes to healthcare, the dividends are to be found in the details – impressive, game-changing, and redefining a healthcare organisation near you:
The benefits of mHealth apps:
There are 3.3 billion smartphone users on planet Earth today (we can’t vouch for off-world use) – that’s 42.78% of the global population with patient-power at their fingertips. This access to care on demand is what many of us – and our healthcare providers – are seeking, easing the friction of time-sucking health centre visits, waiting room hell and resource-draining non-emergency management. Whether it’s monitoring blood sugar levels, heart rate, cholesterol or blood pressure, having an instant check-up of what’s going on health-wise means users are empowered to take action when something’s not quite right.
Need to book an appointment with your GP? Connect directly with a healthcare professional to access personalised advice? Or maybe you’ve got an emergency on your hands and require step-by-step instructions on delivering the best care? There are apps for all of the above – and there’s no need to move an inch from your armchair.
Mobile apps enable healthcare providers to streamline their communications across the healthcare ecosystem, allowing patients, providers, caregivers and suppliers to quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively deliver 24/7 healthcare to their patients.
Deployment of certified, validated mHealth apps, could see healthcare organisations make potentially huge cost-savings across a number of areas, making the mHealth road vastly appealing to the struggling healthcare ecosystem. Here are some good examples:
- The ability to monitor patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease, mental illness, or diabetes, provides the means to spot problems instantly, without patients having to attend on-site clinics after the fact. Not only is this very good news for patients whose prognosis can be radically redefined by fast intervention, but the cost-savings at the provider side are also huge – non-urgent use of ER space is minimised, on-site management of admissions is reduced and resources required are minimised – benefiting everyone involved.
- A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported a 40% decrease in re-admission for patients using a health app to monitor their heart disease. Forty percent! If we take that figure and look at it on a global scale, the cost savings from this one app alone could run into millions – if not more.
- Lack of medication adherence has been estimated to cause around 125,000 deaths each year in the US alone. It also accounts for around 10% of hospital admissions and reportedly costs the US economy between $100 to $289 billion per year. The potential to reduce these numbers through the use of mHealth apps is enormous – if not game-changing.
Better, faster clinical decision-making – Think of a situation where you need immediate help to assuage unpleasant symptoms of a medical condition. In these cases, mHealth apps are a powerful tool for both patients and providers, with the priceless potential to save lives. Last year, our team worked on one such innovation, SPOT, a simple, super-fast way of calculating opioid conversions quickly – a life-saving time saver! This kind of decision-making mHealth app could save up to one-third of the costs associated with traditional methods. Being able to quickly advise patients what they need to do in order to alleviate symptoms not only helps prevent hospital admissions and readmissions, it negates the need for the time spent on managing these symptoms, freeing up that precious, scarce time and resources that many health providers so desperately need.
Another area where mHealth apps are delivering high-value benefits is access to health records. Access to patient data is a key element of robust, patient-centred care, and it’s traditionally been a big sticking point across healthcare systems worldwide. So whenever crucial medical information can be quickly and easily accessed by both patients and providers, everyone is empowered and better decision-making happens.
Types of medical apps
So we’ve established the humble mHealth app can do several things – power better communication, deliver quick diagnoses, offer remote access to health data and empower both providers and patients when it comes to healthcare. But what of the different types of healthcare apps? The most common use is mHealth apps which provide a connection to healthcare professionals, followed closely by diabetes apps, then heart, circulation and blood, then medication – but there’s so, so much more to mHealth than that. Here are a few of our favourite use-cases coming to a healthcare provider near you:
Feeling sick? Has your headache been lingering a little too long? Recurring midnight cramps keeping you awake? Then grab your phone and get checking! Powered mostly by artificial intelligence, symptom checker apps are intended to provide more accurate health advice than Dr Google might provide proponents of symptom checkers will say that these apps help to lessen the myriad burdens on healthcare services by pointing users to the best sources of help or support, bypassing human time and effort, and saving on the vital funds that many healthcare organisations struggle to manage. What’s more, these apps are also finding an unexpected place in the provision of healthcare guidance in locations around the world where healthcare services are simply not readily available. Ada, for example, the most popular symptom checker app (to date, it’s performed over 15 million health checks and enjoyed the covetable position of the top medical app in over 140 countries) amassed over half a million users in Brazil between the beginning of July and the end of August this year.
Symptom checkers are a great empowerer when it comes to our health – they’re fast, convenient, easy to use, and are often backed by medical professionals, and where obtaining real, face-to-face medical advice isn’t possible, they can be lifesaving. Nevertheless, symptom checkers don’t offer a definitive medical diagnosis, and they can get it wrong. Your doctor will always outperform these apps, so when in doubt, and when able, a face-to-face discussion will always trump the symptom checker. In the meantime, here’s our pick of the bunch:
Chronic Disease Management
Noncommunicable diseases (aka Chronic Diseases) kill 41 million people every year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally. Cardiovascular disease accounts for the majority of these at 17.9 million people, followed by cancer (9 million), then respiratory disease (3.9 million), and diabetes (1.6 million). Sobering figures – yet the potential benefits of being able to effectively manage these (and other) chronic diseases using a mobile app are highly compelling, minimising the risk of complications and hospital readmissions. CDM (Chronic Disease Management) offers those affected the facility to connect directly to their healthcare provider faster, more efficiently, and, it goes without saying, reaping quicker results. In traditional healthcare circumstances, these patients would be supported face-to-face, diverting people, time and resources away from more complex cases that may not benefit from CDM apps.
The upshot – we know that mHealth supports health providers in reaching more patients, more efficiently, with the same care, and requires fewer resources, so in a way, CDM via an app is a no-brainer. But perhaps where the true value lies (as is often the case) is with the data harvested from these apps. Healthcare professionals are vocal about the fact that disease management apps enable them to gather highly valuable data on patient behaviour and symptoms – and to intervene when patients fail to follow management guidance, or experience an increase in symptoms. Here are some apps that are transforming the way in which chronic diseases are managed:
Medication management may sound like a somewhat banal, low-key contribution to mHealth, but you’d be wrong – it’s one of the fastest-growing areas in mHealth, and for good reason – non-adherence to medication requirements costs healthcare organisations billions each year. Keeping track of medications, when to take them, and remembering when to do so day in day out, can be problematic – not to mention dangerous, particularly amongst the elderly or those with chronic, long-term conditions. The fallout of failure is eye-watering – readmissions, retreatments and longer-term treatments all result in vastly increased healthcare costs.
In the US alone, over 4 billion prescriptions are issued every year, with an estimated 50% of these medicines not being taken as prescribed. It’s a problem, and a pretty big one at that – a tidy $300 billion a year in unnecessary healthcare costs, or $1K per individual to be precise. If an app has the potential to eradicate, or at least stem the wasteful flow of medicines languishing in the bathroom cabinet, then no wonder there’s a stampede to address the issue. But it’s complicated. Reasons for non-adherence range from straightforward forgetfulness to lack of motivation to socio-economic factors to a lack of knowledge about the medication itself to lack of engagement or long lapses between communication with their healthcare providers yet at the same time, research has found that patients following a medication program are very open to using adherence apps to support them in sticking to their prescribed schedule. Providing personalised, real-time support and communication to patients, massively improving adherence rates and minimising, 50% of patients are ready and waiting for mHealth to better manage their medication schedules.
So what do these adherence apps do exactly? Delivering personalised guidance to patients, medication-adherence apps exist primarily to prompt patients to perform a number of activities that ensure they’re, well, adhering to their prescribed medication schedule. From picking up or renewing prescriptions to taking medication at certain times; keeping track of what medications have been taken to recording program progress, these seemingly simple apps can compel patients to stick to a pre-planned medication schedule, greatly improving outcomes and minimising the more costly aspects of non-adherence which we touched on earlier. But there’s another side to the adherence coin, aside from saving lives and cutting costs – successful medication management is critical in driving successful clinical outcomes. For healthcare professionals, the data provided through adherence apps means they’ve got valuable insights at their fingertips, insights with which they can deliver the most effective – and cost-effective – patient care, way into the future.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is the monitoring and analysis of a patient’s health without that patient being physically present – think the elderly, patients with chronic illness, those that can’t easily travel, or those who simply live in the middle of nowhere. Now I don’t know about you, but the benefits of RPM are immediately clear – innovative, cost-effective, patient-friendly healthcare that benefits everyone – and which carries with it the potential to radically transform the healthcare space …
Driving down exorbitant costs and enabling the highest standards of care for patients on the receiving end, like many mHealth innovations, healthcare providers are looking to RPM to help manage the previously unmanageable. And with a near 40% of healthcare providers reporting that RPM tools are helping reduce hospital admissions, and a further 25% reporting cost savings, RPM is a burgeoning market well on the road to a value over $2bn by the end of 2026. Not bad for a sector that’s only been active a few very short years.
So what’s it all about? Well, a lot as it happens – RPM apps can measure and assess a vast range of health-related information – anything from medication monitoring, temperature, blood pressure, glucose and oxygen levels, sleep patterns, eye health and heart rate – and that’s just for starters. As RPM innovations enjoy widespread adoption across the healthcare ecosystem, every week brings new opportunities to enhance the level of care that patients receive and provide medical professionals with real-time data to optimise decision making in relation to care. Pre and post-op health monitoring, dementia supervision, clinical trials tracking and fertility monitoring are already leveraging the benefits of RPM technology, and those organisations – and patients – ready to embrace it are reaping the rewards:
- Quick, easy access to patient data
- The ability to deliver faster, better care to more patients
- Reduced costs and higher efficiencies
- Improved access to healthcare
- Enhanced quality of care
- Peace of mind and daily assurance
- Improved support, education and feedback
One of the key benefits of remote patient monitoring is that healthcare providers can deliver care to patients outside scheduled visits and opening hours, which in turn is driving a huge shift towards decentralised healthcare – which sounds even better when you understand that this kind of healthcare model has the potential to minimise the enormous level of pressure on overstretched doctors surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies. This, in turn, enables scarce resources to be more efficiently distributed to provide tailored care with enhanced patient outcomes. It’s a transformative ripple-effect that creates a win-win – like most mHeath solutions – for everyone. More efficient monitoring leads to better patient quality of life; real-time monitoring of patient health provides early health warnings, which in turn means faster, better preventative care.
So what does a real-world RPM app look like? Depends who you ask, but there’s no shortage of innovators in this space who are bringing patient monitoring to the masses. What about ResMed who provide RPM devices to help users manage asthma, sleep apnea, asthma, and irregular breathing. Or the voice-enabled vital signs collection and disease-specific symptom management solutions for patients living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease? Or a postnatal hypertension monitoring app that enables new mothers to use a blood pressure device and a choice of communication channels to relay their blood pressure readings back to their health provider so that they can be alerted if medical intervention is needed. The uses are as infinite as they are exciting, and here are a few of our favourites:
Empowering patients to look after their health through mobile apps has come a long way since Apple’s introduction of the Epocrates Essentials back in 2009. Today, the RPM technology market is well on its way to touching over $16bn by 2023, saving our healthcare systems billions each year, and saving countless lives into the bargain. These innovative technological advancements are creating both opportunities and challenges – and the more we learn, the more we have to do. As healthcare needs grow, how can we create the scalable systems we need to gather increasingly vast volumes of data and managing the resulting insights, while effectively and efficiently treating those who need it most? How can we bring this new way of ‘doing’ healthcare to remote, third-world communities who so desperately need the healthcare that simply isn’t available to them? And how will we meet and address the ever-growing regulatory requirements that ensure our privacy without stifling market growth?
One major aspect of enhancing patient care is understanding how new and emerging technologies are impacting existing methods of healthcare delivery. From virtual and augmented reality to voice and the Internet of Things, each of these exciting new technologies will have its own unique role to play in transforming healthcare systems and delivery. The key to success is understanding how each of these technologies is impacting how, when and where healthcare services are delivered to enhance patient care and provide medical professionals with enhanced data sets and decision-making capabilities.
The good news is that technology is always ready to provide the answer, with mHealth solutions already playing a major role in solving some of the most pressing healthcare challenges of our times – from increasing costs and patient numbers to decreasing resources and profits. If there’s a problem, there’s always an app for it.
What to do next
Every day brings another opportunity for our lives to be enriched through mHealth innovations, and digital answers to our most urgent healthcare questions are something we have a particular passion for at Waracle. So if you’ve got an idea that’s ready to make a difference, we’re ready to get the conversation started.