3 healthcare challenges mHealth is helping overcome

By Alex Butler

| Healthcare

The intersection of health and technology is the most exciting place to be in 2017. Mobile health (mHealth) is now entering the mainstream consciousness, and the pace of innovation is rapid, with new breakthroughs announced on a daily basis. In order to have a significant health impact, we need to be able to reach people at scale.

Global smartphone penetration means that mHealth can now reach more people. The possibilities the technology holds mean it could be as important to the advancement of healthcare as some of the most famous pioneering landmarks in medicine, such as the invention of the microscope, the development of vaccination or the discovery of penicillin.

The following three key healthcare challenges are already being positively affected by mobile technology:

1. Managing chronic disease

Applications such as GlycoLeap combine data, artificial intelligence and psychology to tackle diabetes. The digital program combines different health tools such as a fitness tracker, a glucometer, interactive coaching from certified dietitians and a mobile application to help people manage or reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

MD Anderson Cancer Center is leveraging mHealth to capture behavioural data from breast cancer patients to help them manage feelings of depression and anxiety in real time, moving patients from being passive recipients of their medical care to being active participants with greater control over their treatment. Applications such as SkinVision allow people to check their moles and get warnings about possible skin cancer, enabling earlier treatment and possibly better survival outcomes.

There are exciting developments in mental health such as an experimental application by the University of Michigan that can recognise subtle voice changes in bipolar disease patients, helping to predict and help manage mood changes, possibly giving vital indications of issues that could enable care earlier. Neurological conditions such as epilepsy may be radically affected by projects such as those being undertaken at John Hopkins. Researchers are using an application and Apple Watch to study the disease in the real world with the hope of being able to predict seizures in the future.

According to the National Academies Press, it is estimated that 100 million Americans live with chronic pain. In addition, Science Daily has estimated that half of the UK population does as well. Intended as a supplement to pain management rather than a painkiller replacement, mobile apps are connected to wearables that use miniaturized electrostimulation miniaturised electrostimulation to dull the aches and twinges, helping people cut their dosages and reduce their reliance on medication.

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2. Accessing healthcare

However, mHealth isn’t just about relatively wealthy people with smartphones. It can also help the developing world access care.

There are 39 million blind people in the world, yet 80 percent of blindness is avoidable or can be cured, according to the World Health Organization. Peek is an eye examination app that gives users comprehensive eye examinations in the poorest and most remote of areas, such as Kenya, Mali, Tanzania and India, helping them keep their sight and livelihood. Further examples include mHealth used to triage children for malaria in West Africa, track cholera outbreaks in Haiti and help manage the spread of ebola in Nigeria.

3. Assisting aging populations

Older people can also benefit greatly from mHealth technology. Applications developed with cognitive capabilities give us the possibility of remote personalised care. This can be particularly powerful with conditions that affect the older generation, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. An example is SimpleC, a company that provides memory therapies and caregiver support through mHealth. Clinicians can also monitor patients from the SimpleC app, which compiles data that can be used for improving the quality of healthcare provision.

Other mobile technologies, such as the devices highlighted by Kiplinger , can be used to monitor vulnerable older people in their homes to detect falls or changes in activity, enabling people to stay independent for longer.

The most exciting aspect of mHealth is that we are only witnessing the very beginning. There is still so much we can do to improve people’s lives. mHealth will play a massive role in the future of healthcare, and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

Written By

Alex Butler

Digital Health Technologist | MD at The EarthWorks | Partner at OPEN Health

Alex is the Managing Director at The EarthWorks and Partner in OPEN Health. For over a decade he has lead the digital transformation of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, both from within the industry at Johnson & Johnson and servicing the industry by founding and leading the fast…