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article added: 2014-11-12 10:52:40

Could mHealth be the cost effective alternative to traditional healthcare?

The healthcare industry is facing substantial resource challenges due to budgetary constraints, ageing populations, increases in chronic diseases and ever growing demand.

For example, by 2030, 53 per cent of the Japanese population, 43 per cent of Western Europe and 33 per cent of North America is expected to be over the age of 65 and diseases once considered incurable, are now deemed potentially treatable through ongoing clinical monitoring. These combining factors are all placing greater strain on the healthcare industry and forcing practitioners to seek new and more affordable ways to maintain and improve the current quality of patient care.

According to the IMF, “reforming healthcare systems should be high on the list of priorities of governments as they continue to work on cutting deficits and debt”. Never has it been more important for the industry to find new ways of delivering accessible, efficient and affordable healthcare, which is why medical professionals, eager to drive those reforms, are now turning to mobile technology. Technology has the potential to deliver information to the right place at the right time, as quickly as possible, and could dramatically change the relationship between patients and their healthcare professionals.

Making healthcare accessible

Using mobile communication patients have an accessible way to reach and receive care from doctors; those doctors in turn have an obligation to ensure the patient data they send and receive remains secure. And the industry as a whole has an innovative way of finding efficiencies and improving productivity across its workforce.

The introduction of video call consultations with GPs is just one of the new ways existing forms of mobile communication are making GPs easier to contact, enabling more engaged relationships between doctors and patients. The introduction of text messages to educate and remind patients to, for instance, take medication, both during their treatment and in the aftercare stages is another. These familiar technologies are helping health practitioners ease patients in to mobile care delivery and paving the way for more sophisticated implementations of mobile health (mHealth).

And video calls and text messages really only scratch the surface of mHealth’s full potential. The same technologies that brought consumer-based mobile applications into the public psyche are now being embraced by the healthcare industry and giving patients an unobtrusive way of having their conditions remotely monitored and managed. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology is playing an important part in this evolution.

As a result of M2M-based mHealth patients now have a way of receiving treatment without the inconvenience of GP or hospital visits. For a patient who would rather keep their condition to themselves, this can make it easier to seek treatment in a more private way. And for an industry under increasing pressure, this creates a way of saving money, while increasing the amount of time available for other patients. According to Vodafone’s second annual M2M Adoption Barometer finding cost savings is a trigger to M2M adoption for more than a third of healthcare and life sciences businesses.

In an M2M-based mHealth solution, data or readings are captured by sensors in medical devices, and automatically uploaded to a server for remote access by patients, healthcare professionals and even other devices. For example, an M2M health solution can monitor the blood pressure of at-risk patients, or oversee the whereabouts of Alzheimer's patients by means of a GPS terminal device worn by the patient.

Vodafone’s M2M Adoption Barometer found that 19 per cent of the healthcare and life sciences businesses surveyed are now using M2M. This is expected to rise to 57 per cent by 2016. That demand is being driven for the most part by patients themselves, with 40 per cent of healthcare and life sciences businesses citing end-user demand as the main trigger to adoption.

Boosting productivity

Those adopting M2M technology to improve mHealth are doing so to improve internal processes, as well as to enhance patient-facing services. Vodafone’s Adoption Barometer found that 14 per cent are currently using internal applications to remotely monitor high value, condition-sensitive equipment and controlled substances, while 11 per cent are using M2M to deliver services such as eHealth, which is to say using connected technologies to provision healthcare.

eHealth specialist 24care, has developed an automatic monitoring system that relies on Vodafone’s connectivity to carry out regular checks on its Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to ensure they remain fully functional. The AEDs, which are kept in public spaces, are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest and deliver a small dose of electricity to the heart to help re-establish normal rhythms. Every minute without one reduces chances of survival by 10 per cent. Using M2M technology, the AED can send a text message to a number chosen by the owner – a first responder or service manager – should a problem arise, who can then assess and maintain the device. This technology reduces the pressure on hospital services, increasing the speed at which healthcare providers can respond to signs of deterioration in patient conditions.

Through additional assisted living services, the same technology can also help elderly patients maintain independence, by creating safe and secure living environments. Sensormind uses Vodafone M2M technology to reliably monitor the safety and security of seniors in their own home using a network of infrared sensors in every room and on external doors. The software analyses behaviour, automatically identifying causes for concern and generating alerts when something is wrong. Text message notifications can be sent to phones of family members, care providers or monitoring centres, giving the patient the freedom to live without constant supervision and the family the peace of mind of knowing their relative is safe.

Clinical trials to support investment in new treatments and drugs can also be time-consuming and costly. M2M-enabled devices such as vital sign monitors enable administrators to capture real-time patient data during clinical trials, speeding up regulatory evaluations, removing the need for manual, paper-based methods and facilitating faster decision-making, helping to further ease the strain on the healthcare industry.

Healthcare done differently
M2M-based mHealth services have the potential to refocus healthcare on patients, both in the home and community and at clinical facilities. At a time when governments around the world are introducing increasingly burdensome regulations and reducing funding, it is also providing a valuable way for the healthcare industry to start doing things differently, sidestepping budget limitations and meeting increasing patient needs in the process.

Vodafone M2M mHealth Lead, Jon Lee-Davey


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