Gone are the days of shuffling papers and making phone calls or visits to collect and pass on results. With the introduction of mobile health operating systems, information can now be shared at the touch of a screen. As mobile health becomes more widespread, solutions are proliferating.
Through cloud computing, people can have seamless access to shared data, resources and common infrastructure.
Over the network, organizations can offer services on demand and carry out tasks that meet changing needs and standards. Electronic applications make it possible to do all this, and more, in the health care setting.
Mobile health, or mHealth, incorporates cloud computing technology and devices such as tablets, mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) for a variety of purposes.
But while it can make eHealth applications and medical information available anywhere at anytime, it must also be portable, secure and easy to use.
The range of applications and services supported by mHealth systems include:
- Mobile telemedicine, used for remote consultations
- Storing and sharing of patient data
- Personalized monitoring of vitals, now enhanced through interconnectedness with wearable devices
- Location-based medical services to ensure delivery of locally-relevant information
- Emergency response and management
- Pervasive access to health care information.
But as mobile technology gathers pace, the possibilities may be limited only to our imagination.
Advantages and challenges of mobile technology in health care
As governments and individuals experience ever-greater pressure to increase efficiency, mHealth solutions can offer numerous advantages.
The mobility of an interconnected, wireless system means that it can be used anywhere, and specifically at the point of care.
Collaboration can reduce the risk of errors: there is less physical paperwork to get lost and a reduced risk of two doctors making different decisions.
Point-of-care digital tools can help to safeguard patients and protect professionals against litigation through instant recording of data and potential for verification in real time and in the future.
mHealth can save time and money by enabling instant recording of information and a reduction in the duplication of tasks. It can enable virtual meetings, eliminating the need to move physically to a new location.
Pooling of data and resources can lead to closer collaboration and stronger teams. Professional development becomes more feasible due to instant, online delivery of research, training materials and other updates.
The challenges of mHealth solutions include the practicalities of data storage and management, availability and maintenance of the network, as well as compatibility and interoperability.
The biggest issue is perhaps security and privacy, raising questions about permission control, data anonymity and confidentiality, as well as the integrity of the infrastructure.
The initial financial outlay and training and resistance to change within an organization may pose further challenges.
A case in point: Medopad
To investigate mHealth solutions further, Medical News Today have been investigating a specific example, "Medopad," recently represented at the "Internet of Things" conference and exhibition in London, UK.
Medopad is a mobile health operating system (mHOS™) that provides software, security, data connectivity and more to a number of major National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in London, amongst others.
We asked Jesko Bartelt, head of business operations at Medopad, about the concept.
Is Medopad a device or an app?
He told us that it is neither an app nor a device, but provides software solutions.
"Medopad is a mobile health platform that delivers [...] workflow solutions that provide easy access to unified and comprehensive patient information across hospital departments and multiple locations."
Additional functions include the incorporation of the Apple Watch to help manage chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients.
There is also a Google-glass app that surgeons can wear during surgery, enabling them to share a procedure for training purposes or consultation with other specialists who are not in the room.
How does Medopad work with existing systems?
Bartelt explained to MNT that Medopad integrates with and complements existing hospital systems, by collecting all data from hospital databases and collating them into a central source. Doctors can access this information quickly from an iPad.
One function might be a physician taking a photo of a patient's visible symptoms and sharing them through the system with other professionals, who can then give advice.
How does Medopad deal with patient data?
Bartelt explained that Medopad does not contain data, but it provides access to a wide range of health care and patient data. Doctors can use it to interact with patient records, access lab results, view vital signs, take images and more.
The device means that hospitals can pool their patients' data so it can be "served up to doctors on mobile devices in real-time." Bartelt explains:
"Instead of physicians flipping through physical pages on which nurses have marked patient notes, Medopad can automatically serve up relevant patient records on an iPad as a doctor approaches a bed."
The Apple Watch apps, Bartelt said, allows doctors to connect with their patients to provide better support and ultimately better care.
What security safeguards does Medopad offer?
As one study points out, the main challenge for mHealth is to ensure that the underlying IT infrastructure is secure and that patient data privacy is properly protected.
To achieve this, regulatory requirements and technological innovations must be effectively combined.
To develop Medopad, Bartelt told MNT security technology from the financial sector was used, in addition to gaining CE approval as a health device. While patient data is being transmitted, it is protected by strong encryption.
Fast facts about mHealth
- In April 2015, 90% of US health care providers had mobile devices to interact with patients
- Only 8% had all their patient data uploaded from mobile devices to the electronic health record
- 51% cited lack of funding as the main barrier to using mobile technology.
Data security is also enhanced because it is not stored on Medopad. The system can only access information that is already on hospital servers, so as long as the hospital servers are safe, the data are safe as well.
Technology can be perfected, but behavioral and organizational issues can also affect security, for example, how many organizations or health care professionals will have access to mHealth data and which datasets.
Within the system, Bartelt said, the whole health care team can use it, including physicians, nurses and administrators. The individual health care provider will decide in each case who should be involved.
"If a device is taken outside the hospital premises," he added, "Medopad software allows for automatic wiping of its function."
Around the world, aging populations and shrinking budgets are putting pressure on health care systems and professionals.
mHealth solutions have the potential to ease the pressure in flexible ways, by adapting similar concepts to local needs.
From monitoring the vital signs of cardiac patients in remote areas of Sri Lanka to tweaking a patients' heart medication while they are on holiday in the US, mHealth solutions are set to reshape our experience of health care.
Yvette's extensive experience has taken her around the world, teaching English for professional purposes, frequently for the medical or pharmaceutical field. She has worked with pharmacists, medical imagers, and paramedics, with whom she also qualified as an Emergency First Responder. Yvette is also a qualified rescue diver and volunteers once per month, helping people in need on the streets. She joined MNT in 2015 and now works as an updates editor.Yvette Brazier, Editor at MNT