17 Nov 2010

Trends in mHealth, the next big thing or not?

dcktn logo 2010A round up of last week’s super event sponsored by our friends at DCKTN on key trends in mHealth from Mobile Monday London regular columnist, Lauren McGregor – over to you Lauren.

mHealth is been one of the things on my 'one to watch' list for quite some time and so when I heard that the next Mobile Monday London event was going to be on this subject, I was very excited. The healthcare industry is one that thrives off new technology, whether is is through innovations within the equipment used or the developments in the medicine prescribed – technology advancements are rife and there has always been a strong tradition in research and development. mHealth is a wide topic and means different things to different people, including the ways that mobile are designed to make the processes within a doctor-patient scenario run more smoothly and efficiently, both for the benefit of the doctor's schedule and the patients recovery. The kind of applications available include devices that allow the patient can spend more time at home though monitoring devices that share information with their doctor, and those that can be used directly by the doctor for reference/note-taking purposes. Many of the benefits of mHealth revolve around time-saving, faster recovery times, better monitoring systems and also, and less obviously, hygiene improvements are high on the list too.

Rather then me rambling on about what I know about this industry, I will pass you over to our panel of experts for this evening with experience from all corners of the globe. Including Mobile Monday Austria's founder, Mark A.M. Kramer, Grow's Barry Flaherty was in from Qatar, Founder and CEO of Regpoint, Sophia Salenius had flown in from Sweden to join us, chaired by LinkedGov's founder, Hadley Beeman. Unfortunately, Robyn Glen from NHS Choices could not make it due to illness.

Sophia Salenius, who is also a registered nurse as well as a successful entrepreneur, kicked off the debate telling us about the clinical trials that Regpoint carried out with PDAs in the early 90s. The PDAs tracked and recorded symptoms and medical information, correcting the levels of medication that the patient required. The trials were carried out on patients with Parkinson's Disease and following the trials, those involved fed back that their quality of life which went from 'bad' to 'good' to 'never been better' in only three months – doctors also reported patients’ health improved. If you would like a copy of the white paper please contact Sophia directly. The positive impact to patients is clear, however as Sophia points out, there are a number of different players that need to be in sync – operators, doctors, patience, content providers, developers – with issues surrounding security and transition across a multitude of handsets on the market.

Hadley Beeman continued that there is a real need to connect the whole ecosystem together, through data collection, research, decision support, diagnostics and telemedicine. Hadley illustrated one of the biggest problems faced with an example of the NHS, where there is not just one department but several hundred that the developer will need to deal with – each with its own security infrastructure. mHealth is something that the NHS investing in though, most recently with iBleep, which uses tablets and PDAs to locate the nearest doctor with relevant skills and location within the hospital. Mark Kramer added that mHealth could be a great case study for the industry to help us to develop the standards needed for all mobile applications.

The issue of security and the inevitable privacy concerns were raised from our audience. There is a definite need for a regulatory environment and certainly no spam – the panel agreed that any data stored should be encrypted and not linked directly to a patients name/NHS number. But one huge question lies, who should/will fund these additional security systems and infrastructure needed to make mHealth work, perhaps the billion pound pharmaceutical industry?

As with much of the adoption of new mobile technologies, mHealth is picking up pace in lesser developed countries. One such region is India, which is seeing rapid advancement with mHealth services – is this a good way to change attitudes in EU and other regions? The US has also been an early adopter and it is common place to turn your mobile device into a medical tool. Also, things like social media – using Google to search your symptoms – is a popular way to diagnose symptoms and you can track these searches and see the spikes in those searching flu symptoms for example and then use that date to map and track regionally. That could be a very powerful tool. So we can see that consumers are already happy with using technology to support their own wellbeing.

Adoption of services is an issue, but what is the biggest barrier to full rollout? The panel all agreed that this is largely the clinicians – who have their routines and specific ways of doing things, and although many of the younger generation are keen to adopt new technologies, many are still stuck in their ways – it takes time and energy to get used to new systems. To get around this issue, a huge education plan needs to be implemented, when computers were introduced many years ago, there were the same barriers and yet, these are now widely used, and so it should be just a matter of time to get clinicians to move from computer to mobile – a device that all clinicians have anyway. When asked why they are not keen to adopt mHealth technologies, many clinicians commented that they had been turned off by cold calls from sales people and worried that patients would think they don't know what they are doing if seen reading off a mobile device rather than a more formal-looking computer screen. We as an industry need to show them the benefits of mHealth and counteract these worries.

The theme that ran through the whole of this event was the need for better inter-communication and one single set of standards to be used globally (which is a big ask). It is a theme that we see again and again in mobile, we need to get together and share ideas, standards and reap the benefits – this includes operators, content providers, developers and the consumer – in reality can this happen or is it just a crazy dream...?

Thanks for that Lauren.

And it wasn’t only Lauren who was paying attention… Simon Judge did a write up of the event and was as thorough as ever – Permanent Link to MoMo London on mHealth and he also wrote a post this week linking to some new mHealth research which could be of interest to folks interested in this topic - Permanent Link to mHealth Report. James from The Fonecast also covered the event in their weekly podcast  and includes an interview with Sophia Salenius http://thefonecast.com/?item=475  and wrote about it too – http://thefonecast.com/Opinion/tabid/87/EntryId/3473/Whats-the-value-of-mHealth.aspx. You’ll find some more links to coverage – words, audio and video, and further resources, up on http://lanyrd.com/2010/momolo-november/coverage/ and if you took photos or wrote a blogpost about the event, please do let us know and add your link in the comments so we can include it. If you’re wondering who the lady was from the UK asking lots of questions and sharing some great insights, it was Sam Walmesley. You can find her blog here http://pharmadigital.wordpress.com/ where she talks about where digital meets pharma marketing.