Digital Health

Time For Mobile To Save Healthcare

16th July 2015

Huge thanks to Kenny Fraser for writing and contributing this piece for Waracle. Kenny is a Non Executive Director, board level advisor and mentor with over 20 years experience in mobile and digital. Kenny helps startups and established business take advantage of mobile and digital technologies via Sunstone Communications.

I have recently taken on a new role with a health startup. As a result I have been doing some thinking. I have long believed mobile has a huge role to play in transforming healthcare. But we seem to struggle to realise the potential. It’s time for mobile to save healthcare.

On the surface it appears that mobile health is a big growth area. Lifestyle, fitness, diet and more have long been near the top of the app store charts. Health is a key use case for many wearables including the Apple Watch. Yet little of this seems connected to real health problems. Fitness conscious people with good disposable incomes are looking after themselves better. Good stuff but not changing the world.

Mobile should be a great fit with health. In my experience hospitals and health centres are all about movement and action. Healthcare professionals rarely sit still for any length of time. And data accumulates at a furious rate. The more ill the patient the greater the number of machines. Measuring every aspect of their body function. When nurses do pause for a moment it is often to check some vital sign. We are missing a golden opportunity in all this information.

Information is the key. Good healthcare depends on a flow of data. Some symptoms are visible but many are measured or discovered by complex technology. Diagnosis depends on symptoms. But also on data about history, environment and events. Treatments calls up another whole set of information. The effects of different drugs or therapy regimes need to to be assessed. Balancing different interventions against the patient’s condition.

All computers are good at data. Mobile is better. Mobile devices go with the patient. An array of sensors allow real time measurement of many things. Short range wireless connections can link to other measuring devices. A smartphone is at the best way we have to gather information.

It is also the most popular and convenient way to access data. I can’t think of any medical situation where fast reference to images, trends and history would not be useful. Once you have it, mobile also allows teams to share and collaborate. Another essential element of effective healthcare.

Maybe we think about this the wrong way. Mobile is not an add on capability. Not a nice to have. Health is a classic example of an area that needs to be mobile first. Since modern medicine first emerged charts have been attached to patients’ beds. And notes have been carried around by Doctors. These are the immediate essentials of every hospital treatment. The core of the healthcare process. Why not start with this? Mobile is the only practical option.

Start thinking this way and different solutions appear. Health professionals are rarely on hand when medical events occur. Even in a hospital, Doctors and Nurses are not standing by every patient’s bedside. Mobile devices are the best way of transmitting health information. Once a Doctor examines a patient, new symptoms often appear. Specialist input is required. Mobile can bring extra pairs of eyes right into the room.

Apart from a change of approach, a couple of things are needed. New ideas and applications will emerge all the time. Mobile health apps need to be built on a secure, stable, integrated platform. Quality counts. Testing for robustness, accuracy and performance will be required. Apps should be deployed when they pass clinical style tests.
And all this information belongs to someone. The patient. Privacy must be based on one principle. Everyone owns his or her own medical records. Not the health authority and not the drug companies. Each individual.

There is a great prize at stake. Better, faster gathering and sharing of information can improve health outcomes in innumerable ways. Time to get our best developers and start making the change.

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