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.



Mobile Healthcare and Monitoring on the Brink of Revolution

Wireless in-home health monitoring is expected to increase six-fold in the next four years. A recent study by InMedica indicates that 308,000 patients were remotely monitored by their healthcare provider for congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension, and mental health conditions worldwide in 2012. While congestive heart failure accounts for the majority of remote monitoring, it is expected that diabetes will supplant COPD with the second largest share of telehealth patients by 2017.  It is predicted that more than 1.8 million people worldwide will utilize mobile monitoring in the next four years.

Telemedicine is seen as a significant tool among healthcare providers for reducing hospital readmission rates, track patients chronic disease progression or provide advanced specialized medical treatment to patients in remote areas.  Four main factors are driving the demand for increased use of telemedicine and telehealth; Federal Readmission penalties introduced by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS);  healthcare providers desires to increase ties to patients and improve quality of care; insurance providers who are looking to increase their competitiveness and reduce in-patient pay-outs by working directly with telehealth suppliers to monitor their patient base; and an anticipation for future increased demand for telehealth services by patients.

Of the billions of dollars spent on health care each year, 75% to 80% of it goes for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease.  With rising costs and the anticipated shortage of physicians and healthcare providers over the next decade, utilizing the telemedicine technologies is becoming increasingly important to the routine delivery of medical services and monitoring of chronic diseases.

Even telepsychiatry, the use of secure Web-based video conferencing technology, and ambulatory patients, those who have been diagnosed with a disease at an ambulatory care facility but have not been hospitalized are expected to experience significant increased utilization of telemedicine among healthcare professionals in the next four years.  A plethora of emerging mobile technology, such as wearable wireless monitors to smartphone attachments will offer consumers the ability to track everything from core vital signs to impending heart attacks by discovering problems with heart tissue are on the horizon, offering a revolution in digital medical technology.

Speaking to those resisting the new mobile technology, Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, recently encouraged the medical community to end paternal medicine, where only the physician has access to healthcare information, and to embark on a new beginning where patients own their data.  Dr. Topol compared the new mobile technology to the Gutenberg press and the way it revolutionized the way information was shared throughout the world.

We are embarking into a new era where patients have the mobile tools to better enable them to participate in their own medical diagnoses and treatment.



If You Build It, Will They Come?

A recent report from the Pew Research Center measuring the number of adults using technology to track their health has presented some surprising findings.

The results of the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, which were recently reported in iHealthbeat and supported by The California Healthcare Foundation, found that of 3,014 adults interviewed by phone, just 21 percent of the respondents actively used technology to track their health care. What may be even more surprising is that just 19 percent of those surveyed who owned smart phones, or just 7 percent of all respondents, had acquired an app to monitor their health. Susannah Fox, lead author of the report was surprised by the results and commented, “We’ve been looking at health apps since 2010, and health app uptake has been essentially flat for three years.”

A look at the science of the report, particularly the definition of “adults,” could give some more understandable insight as to the results and may produce answers for some of the “surprise” as to the outcome. Considering that most, older adults have a seemingly natural long acceptance curve when it comes to adopting technology and gadgets, and considering the well-entrenched privacy attitudes about everything to do with personal health information, the results may not be all that unexpected.

Purveyors of new communication technologies operate in environment where todays new devise and idea is often well into obsolescence by tomorrow; such rapid progression of invention to development is unmatched by other industries and beyond the understanding of most consumers. Expecting an equally aggressive acceptance rate by the markets is unreasonable, even when the benefits of convenience and utilization are so obvious to so many.

Given the generally slow acceptance rate of consumer health products, a three year period of market penetration may not be a reasonable benchmark to measure the success or failure of health care applications. Only more time will reveal if the “acceptance curve” will sharpen and the adoption and usage rates grow more dramatically.

“Build it and they will come”. Perhaps, but it may just take a bit longer for their arrival.



Checking in From the 2012 ATA Conference

AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT) Sales Executive Michael Woodcock attended the 2012 American Telehealth Association Conference, the world’s largest telemedicine, telehealth, and mHealth event in San Jose, California.

Greetings from San Jose!

The 2012 ATA Conference has been very impressive. This year’s conference has drawn a record number of attendees (4,500) and more than 175 vendor exhibits. The exposition features several booths with groundbreaking new products and services. Attendees have been encouraged to share news and notes and interact with the conference on social media platforms, which is demonstrative of the kind of technical innovation on display here.

In addition to the exhibitions, there have been a large number of interesting presentations and discussions on a wide variety of topics relating to telehealth and telemedicine. I have attended highly informative Industry Executive Panels on growth sectors in telemedicine, reimbursement issues facing the industry, and perspectives on the state of mobile applications and their compliance with HIPAA as they relate to telemedicine.

Some of the highlight sessions included Model Telemed Programs (a Georgia Partnership for Telehealth presentation from Paula Guy), a feature presentation on Telemedicine and its profitability, and a keynote address by Apple co-founder and tech advocate Steve Wozniak. There are too many presentation topics to list, but suffice it to say the conference is a comprehensive, in-depth look at all facets of the industry. It is exciting to see the growing influence of telemedicine as a potent solution to many pressing healthcare issues.

A link to the full conference program can be found here.



Healthcare, Anywhere

For rapid access to information from anywhere at anytime, nothing beats a smartphone or other mobile device. The widespread use of these devices sets the stage for rapid growth in mobile health (mHealth) applications to improve patient care.  In 2011, smartphones accounted for more than half of all phone sales in the United States, and there are now over 12,000 health-related apps on the iTunes store alone. There is immense theoretical value, but how is mHealth being used by patients and physicians in the real world?

The first generation apps available now provide rapid access to information previously available from far more specific resources. Common conditions like hypertension, diabetes and headache have apps that allow patients to conveniently collect and trend data about their condition. iHeadache and Seizure Log allow patients to look for triggers to these events; Seizure Log can even embed videos of events. Neuro Toolkit provides key protocols and scales that neurologists use routinely in the hospital, frequently saving them a trip to the library or internet. Practical mHealth apps do not necessarily need to be brilliant to be helpful. The value is in the unparalleled level of accessibility that they offer.

In her speech at the annual mHealth summit in December, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described mHealth as “opening up new lines of communications between patients and their doctors, among health care providers trying to stay on the same page and even among communities of patients.”  She mentioned iTriage, an app that helps patients document their symptoms and find a nearby emergency room.

Of course, apps that aid patients and doctors alike are a very positive force in healthcare, but must continue to be improved. iTriage, for example, would benefit by including which hospitals are certified for acute stroke and heart attack treatment by the Joint Commission. If a patient does need emergency treatment for one of these or other conditions, the chance of getting the fastest and most complete care are increased at the most capable facility.

The next generation of apps will move beyond data collection and collation.  Smartphone trends for 2012 include larger screens, faster processing and more apps, all of which bode well for more robust medical applications. With the advances, mHealth is likely to continue to revolutionize access for patients and physicians.