Friday, February 1, 2013

Mobilizing medicine through mHealth

In many ways, our mobile phones know more about us than our doctors do. They know who we talk to. They know what we've seen. They know where we are, where we've been, and sometimes where we're going. Now, people involved in the healthcare industry are trying to figure out ways to take advantage of our mobile phone's knowledge of us to improve patient care.

Mobile Health

The recent movement to use mobile devices to support medical care and public health is called "mobile health" or "mHealth." Developers are figuring out ways to help patients monitor such things as their stress levels, their physical activity, their cigarette cravings, and their adherence to medication routines. Patients no longer need to rely on their memories at the end of the day or at their latest doctor's appointment to report on these experiences. Instead, they can enter reports easily and immediately throughout the day. A few of these tools include: BodyMedia FIT or Fitbit systems, both of which can track your physical activity, sleep, and caloric intake. Glucometers allow people to monitor their blood sugar levels at home. Some smartphone apps and devices can even monitor diseases such as asthma or COPD by relying on built-in microphones or attachments. mHealth strategies are also helping to improve care in low- and middle-income countries, helping deal with pregnancies or diseases such as HIV/AIDS.    

Who will see this information?

A concern among potential users is who will see this information. Self-reports can instantly be correlated to a person's location, perhaps revealing more than what was intended.

Does a person want her doctor to know that she was out drinking at 4 a.m.?

Does a patient want his therapist to know that he hasn't been taking his anti-depression medication?

Many developers are keeping privacy matters in mind, assuring that the data is seen only by the user and others the user allows access to. At the same time, they would like to be able to strike a balance in data collection if at all possible. After all, the collected information from millions of people with multiple diseases could provided extremely valuable information for research purposes. 

The field of mHealth has been quickly gaining popularity. The second mHealth Summit, organized by HiMSS media, The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, mHealth Alliance, and The National Institutes of Health, hosted (tens of) thousands of people in 2012. And, UCLA is co-sponsoring the Heritage Open mHealth Challenge with Heritage Network Provider and Open mHealth. The challenge will award $100,000 to a team proposing the best app to help manage clinical conditions. With so many great minds working on this new face of healthcare, it will be interesting to see how the field develops over the next few years.

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