The mHealth & Telehealth Convergence
Michael Morris, Senior Editor, iTelemedicine
In the recent past, telemedicine was met with lower-than-expected adoption rates — primarily because of cost of implementation and limitations in the delivery of service. These challenges are diminishing as high-performance cellular technology becomes widely available, enabling both cost-effective deployment and increasingly sophisticated solutions at the end-user level. Until recently, mobile health (mHealth) was primarily the domain of consumer technology for tracking health conditions like diet and exercise. Today, mHealth and telemedicine are converging to make mobile telemedicine a reality.
Mobile telemedicine is not only impacting the accessibility and affordability of telemedicine on a wide scale; it is opening up market opportunities and applications previously inaccessible or impractical.
Many of the factors that enable and drive this convergence are rapidly evolving, even as you read this. iTelemedicine spoke with four key industry thought leaders about these factors and how they are compelling the move toward mobile telemedicine.
Immersion Within The Patient’s Ecosystem
Teladoc, Inc., one of the leading telemedicine companies in the U.S. today, believes that mobile telemedicine will represent some of the most significant opportunities for wider deployment and more sophisticated applications in telemedicine.
“It’s about immersion within the patient’s ecosystem, so we are delivering care when, where, and how patients want it,” Dr. Nim Patel, Teladoc’s Chief Medical Information Officer explained. “As improved mobile high-definition imaging technologies develop, we at Teladoc are able to deliver higher quality primary care, behavioral care and teledermatology services, using these mobile apps.”
Driving Down Costs
The convergence is becoming a significant factor in reducing the overall cost of telemedicine implementation. Terry Duesterhoeft, President and CEO of A&D Americas, believes that today’s convergence is due to:
- Increased availability of connected biometric devices
- Extensive penetration of smartphones into general populations
- Access to low-cost, secure cloud storage
“These factors have enabled the rise of telemedicine solutions which can integrate easily with a Smartphone, tablet, or app (from a pharmacy or healthcare provider),” Duesterhoeft said. “This provides consumers and patients alike with capabilities that were once available only through much more costly telemedicine solutions.”
Applications Driving The Convergence
Chris Otto, VP of Business and Product Development for MobileHelp, shared that a significant application driving convergence is remote patient monitoring.
“There are a number of mobile hubs and mobile applications that are able to deliver these services,” Otto told iTelemedicine. “In addition, recent CPT codes have been established to offer this on an ongoing basis for the chronic care patient population – at price points that will require mobile solutions.”
MobileHelp delivers medical-alert and self-managed health monitoring applications on mobile hub and smartphone platforms. They are then able to leverage that same mobile platform and existing data delivery to provide a remote patient monitoring application as a consumer-oriented solution – which makes it feasible for mass adoption.
Terry Duesterhoeft added that biometric monitors are impacting mobile telemedicine, with A&D supplying millions of blood pressure monitors around the world. “Now imagine those millions of devices with the same level of accuracy and reliability as those employed by clinicians,” Duesterhoeft said. “This will have a significant impact on finally breaking down the logistics, cost, and complexity barriers that have stood in the way of telemedicine solutions in the past.”
Teledermatology is another application rapidly moving into mHealth. In fact, Teladoc’s Dr. Nim Patel said teledermatology was only a high-definition desktop setting in an office just four years ago. “We are now creating a new model of delivery for asynchronous dermatology consultations using remote mobile technologies,” Patel added. “This is the first time in our industry that we are able to do that.”
Technologies Enabling The Convergence
“As we become more expert at treating sicker, higher-risk patients in the community, enabled by technologies such as remote sensors, wearable sensors and multi-way video collaboration, we will create a more sustainable healthcare system and help avoid the waste in healthcare.” Patel said. “Remote variable sensors will manage chronic disease patients at a distance.” This is significant, since this is 5 percent of the population driving 50 percent of the cost in the majority of healthcare environments.
“It’s key when we consider population health,” she continued. “It’s a concept that everyone is thinking about – regardless of the constituency that you are in within healthcare.”
Terry Duesterhoeft believes that the evolving merger of technology, consumer electronics, and healthcare delivery will impact the ease of connection with a patient through their smartphone for improved engagement. “Areas like IVR and traditional telephony-based care management will be able to see immediate integration with a mobile app experience, especially as the aging population gains experience with mobile technology,” he explained. “And biometric monitoring, such as blood pressure and blood glucose (which are manually recorded today), will move to mHealth based technologies.”
Chris Otto agreed, saying the immense benefits and affordability of telemedicine are made possible through high-performance cellular devices “The telemedicine market has the potential to grow significantly over the coming years,” he continued. “And we anticipate that almost all of this growth will come from the use of mobile platforms.”
Future of Mobile Telemedicine
As conventional telemedicine develops, purpose-built mobile apps, which connect to current systems, will continue to become the norm. “Today telemedicine programs employing mobile solutions may start with providing a smartphone or tablet,” Terry Duesterhoeft said. “With the app already loaded, the user experience is greatly simplified to control the compliance of the solution.” Easier set-up and use for patients will move telemedicine toward the “Bring Your Own Device” model as managed systems evolve.
Chris Otto believes telemedicine will soon be delivered solely on a mobile platform as prices decrease and consumer desire to utilize technology for health management increases. “This will fuel adoption,” he said. “The emergence of multi-use hubs and smart devices, with standard operating systems like Android and iOS, will make it possible to rapidly integrate those applications into the home environment – connecting all the dots in the healthcare delivery model.”
He added that a combination of self-paid and payer models – for similar or identical applications on the same platform – will come in the future.
Craig A Long, COO/Business Development Director for MyOnCallDoc believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will play a big role in mobile telemedicine in the near future. He offered, “ I think we are going to have telemedicine doing continuous monitoring of at-risk patients that would allow the telemedicine app to launch on its own. Telemedicine will get real-time data to doctors to make decisions before people even know something’s wrong.” Regarding the challenges to AI involvement in telemedicine, he added. “Computers have enough data that they make better clinical decisions than physicians when symptomology is what matters, but people don’t really like computers making those decisions.”
The telemedicine market clearly will grow significantly in the coming years, and much of this growth will come from the use of mobile technologies. Mobile telemedicine is obviously a significant component the future of telemedicine.