When will mHealth become the norm?

How can we overcome the barriers to the mHealth revolution in Europe?

When will mHealth become the norm?

The answer is mHealth. Now what is the question?

It sounds almost as good as a medical breakthrough. Europe’s health care systems will save billions. The infirm elderly and those suffering from chronic conditions will be able to stay at home. There will be less pressure on over-worked hospital staff and expensive beds.

Doesn’t that sound like win, win and win at a time when every country’s health service is under unprecedented cost and demographic strains?

Yet discussion about the benefits of mHealth, the delivery of healthcare by mobile communication devices, inevitably leads to questions like ‘When will it really take off?’ or ‘Who will drive it forwards?’

It’s a puzzle when report after report has been so upbeat about its dramatic potential for patients as well as health care budgets. For example, GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, forecasts savings in Europe of 100 billion euros by 2017 from the adoption of mHealth technology.

The Boston Consulting Group, commissioned by Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company, instanced the efficiencies that could be achieved by remote consultation and support for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They could be rehabilitated at home using remote monitoring and video-enabled smartphones. Trials in Nordic countries showed 50-60% reductions in nights spent in hospital and re-hospitalisations.

The same study estimated that remote monitoring could reduce elderly care costs in Denmark by 1.25billion euros, in Sweden by 2.4 billion and in Norway by 1.5 billion.

mHealth seems to be a no-brainer with the number of smartphone applications booming.

Here are two examples:

1) An office worker wears a wrist-band that records how far she walks, the steps she has taken, the calories she has burned and even her patterns of sleep. The information is transmitted wirelessly to her smartphone.

2) An elderly diabetic uses a blood glucose meter at home that transmits real-time data to her doctor. Her smartphone app also helps her to eat the correct diet and to monitor her dosage of insulin.

Considering how fast the technology is developing and how big the potential market and savings, it’s not surprising that mHealth has become a buzzword.

Yet, the worry is of potential not being realised. According to that report by the Boston Consulting Group, ‘A number of barriers need to be broken down before mHealth can begin to transform health systems and service delivery.’

Although Europe is expected to be the largest global mHealth market by 2018, overtaking America, there are a number of well-documented obstacles to progress. Those raised in a recent European Commission public consultation included concerns about privacy and data protection, calls for quality labelling for lifestyle and wellbeing apps and more evidence of mHealth’s cost-effectiveness.

Another barrier that is often raised involves incentives – for example, if a doctor is paid according to the number of patients attending his or her surgery, mHealth monitoring at home could lead to a loss of income. Also, some doctors are said to be resistant to change that shifts the balance of power in favour of patients.

These are some of the reasons why the closing keynote address at the mHealth Summit Europe in Riga in May is titled ‘Who has interest in using mHealth? Who should be driving and paying for mHealth?’

With so much potential for patients and healthcare systems, these questions should have had answers by now.

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