AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Minority Communities May Benefit Most from mhealth Technology

Mobile Health (mHealth) is the newest entrant in the world of telemedicine.  Delivery of health services by way of mobile, smart phones is promising to be a quickly expanding healthcare delivery device and minority communities may be the segment of population that will benefit the most from the technology.  The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recently released a report entitled “Minorities, Mobile Broadband, and the Management of Chronic Diseases,” which evaluates the vast potential of mobile broadband technologies to help address our nation’s most pressing health concerns.

Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and obesity claim the lives of 7 out every 10 Americans each year and these chronic diseases affect minority communities disproportionately, with many individuals lacking the ability to effectively treat and monitor their health due to geographic, financial, cultural and linguistic barriers.  mHealth may be the answer to breaking down barriers to minorities receiving treatment for these chronic conditions.  With more than 63 percent of the minority population having access to mobile devices like smartphones and “pads”, equipping them with functionally relevant mobile applications can enhance the doctor-patient communication and empower patients to make informed healthcare decisions.

Some of the report’s policy recommendations include:

  • Ensure universal access to mobile broadband for households in both un-served and underserved areas.
  • Reform regulatory barriers that limit the use of non-traditional medical treatment.
  • Create incentives for physicians to use mobile broadband-enabled technologies for current and preventative care.
  • Avoid excessive and regressive taxation on wireless goods and services.

According to the latest industry data available, there are presently 31,000 health, fitness, and medical related apps on the market, and the rate of new introductions is growing rapidly. According to Washington, D.C.-based eHealth Initiative, the number of smart phone apps increased 120% during the past year alone and while there are hundreds of the apps that really work and are completely legitimate, the medical community has legitimate concern about many of the products safety and effectiveness.

Patients, physicians, and the vast mHealth community are profoundly optimistic about the future of health apps in bringing much needed medical care to those who suffer from chronic illnesses, not only in the minority communities but the increasingly aging population as well.



Opening the Dialogue to Better Care

Amidst much confusion and debate about plotting the best course towards achieving the so-called ‘triple-aim’ of increasing quality, improving patient satisfaction, and reducing costs, the healthcare community is struggling with communications amongst payers, vendors, and providers. Creating initiatives that encourage the development of more efficient, more sustainable healthcare requires the participation of all these entities in an ongoing conversation.

For physicians, making the ecosystem more intelligent is not exactly a simple proposition. Focused on delivering care, doctors typically do not have affinities for nor access to the kinds of information readily available to payers and vendors, such as performance metrics, analytics, and risk management considerations. Fostering an environment in which this data and knowledge can be openly shared is a pivotal step in helping doctors operate smarter.

As eHealth and the growth of telemedicine begin to significantly impact the delivery of care, the healthcare industry must address questions as to how physicians can better access these insights and be stimulated to embrace best practices, as well as how plan members can be similarly empowered to make better decisions. The answers come in the form of more open dialogue. Each party needs to share a similar, if not identical perspective on what constitutes quality to effectively collaborate.

With an ever-expanding arsenal of tools and knowledge at their disposal, physicians must call upon available resources in the form of industry partners to take advantage of this opportunity. The result will be a more intelligent system that benefits the entire network.



Privacy Issues Come to Light

Last month, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act was introduced to Congress. The bill would “allow health professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as outside VA contractors, to practice telemedicine across state borders if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.” Unsurprisingly, the bill is casting a new light on issues of privacy and security in the growing telemedicine field.

Currently, different states have their own regulations around privacy rules that range from less to more severe than federal HIPAA laws. The VETS act has raised the question of what rules, state or federal, would apply in cases of doctor and patient being in different states and consulting via telemedicine.

Outside of the discussion on Capitol Hill, organizations like the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) have been working to override laws in those states inhibiting the growth of telemedicine across state lines. Most cases of doctors attempting to provide telemedicine services to other states serve to fill a need in areas where specialists like radiologists or neurologists are in short supply. Limiting the reach of these practitioners is manifestly detrimental to healthcare access. Doctors currently must obtain licensure in other states in order to provide telemedicine care to patients who reside outside their own state. The ATA approximates that only 20-25 percent of U.S. doctors have licenses in more than one state – national medical licensing is one proposed solution that would also cover the complications of the VETS bill.

Regardless of whether these issues of state vs. federal regulation are addressed sooner or later, more legal questions about the privacy of data in the practice of telemedicine are inevitably becoming part of the conversation. Everyone, not just regulators, but also practicing physicians and their patients must educate themselves about the potential for rubbing up against HIPAA as eHealth services continue to grow in popularity.