The field of eHealth, or the use of information technologies in healthcare, has been the subject of intensive research and commercial development for the last decade. In many healthcare systems, IT solutions such as patient platforms, EHR, and scheduling software, have already become commonplace, replacing manual-based data entry and paper documentation.
The next big thing within the telehealth space will be mobile health (mHealth), or the delivery of medical services through mobile devices. The technology offers an immense opportunity for technology companies and research institutions to develop high-impact mobile preventive health solutions.
mHealth solutions market
Source: Markets and Markets
What is preventive (preventative) healthcare?
Preventative healthcare refers to measures taken for disease prevention and reduction of the duration and severity of health conditions. It allows doctors and patients to intervene before a disease develops through practices such as wellness consulting, regular specialist check-ups, immunizations, and screenings. By 2024, the global preventive healthcare market is expected to be worth over $432 billion.
Chronic diseases are a tremendous burden not only to individuals but also to healthcare systems and state economies. As CDC points out, in the USA, the treatment of people with chronic and mental health conditions takes up 90% of the annual health care expenditures. The impact of these conditions is comparable in other countries that are still struggling with health promotion and disease prevention.
By 2024, the global preventive healthcare market is expected to be worth over $432 billion.
Through prevention, governments and authorities can effectively reduce the incidence and prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, delay their onset, and slow down the progression. This applies particularly to fast-aging countries with high longevity rates, such as Japan, Italy, Greece, or Germany, where the demographic landscapes drive higher demand for healthcare services. In these territories, activities of dedicated prevention institutions such as the US Preventive Services Task Force, the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention, and UK Preventive Medicine are critical for curtailing the impact of chronic illnesses and unburdening overloaded health systems.
- 80% of strokes are preventable.
- An estimated 45% of cancer deaths in the US are attributed to potentially modifiable risk factors.
- The current influenza vaccine has been 45% effective overall against 2019–2020 seasonal influenza A and B viruses.
- Up to 90% of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes can be avoided by making lifestyle changes.
How mHealth solutions can support disease prevention and management
For now, preventive health measures continue to be largely underutilized, but the ongoing advancement of mobile and connected technologies is expected to galvanize the transformation of healthcare towards preventive services. As we increasingly integrate smartphones into our lives, we don’t need to look any further than at our screens to keep our health in check. In this context, mobile health solutions can efficiently support the medical community in providing clinical preventive services to patients across all geographies.
The concept of mHealth applies to the integration of mobile connectivity, wearable devices, and technologies for collecting and monitoring health-critical data and physiological signals. Patients use mobile health solutions to track their vitals, create health-related alerts and reminders, receive dietary and fitness recommendations, and stick to their medication routines. In the long term, mHealth apps allow users to record health habits over time and identify patterns and risk behaviors, which makes them highly applicable to the prevention of chronic conditions.
By offering more accessible and affordable healthcare, the technology is expected to transform centralized, reactive healthcare into personalized, proactive, and patient-centric health services. This makes it a particularly bright prospect for developing countries: through the adoption of cross-border mHealth solutions, they can radically enhance the performance and sustainability of their healthcare systems, reaching out to the most under-served regions and populations.
- There are over 100,000 mHealth apps available on the global market.
- By 2025, the mobile app market is projected to be worth over $216 billion.
- According to research, more than 50 million people worldwide use app-based symptom checkers to evaluate their condition.
- One study of mobile symptom checkers found that their rate of appropriate triage advice in emergent cases was 80%; another, non-peer-reviewed, article concluded that a particular app gave better triage advice than a human doctor.
mHealth pros and cons
mHealth solutions markedly increase the efficacy and convenience of care for patients and healthcare providers, promising to:
- enhance the speed and accuracy of diagnosis
- provide personalized treatment regimes
- educate patients about their condition and preventive measures they can take
- improve access to some therapies
- reduce medical errors
- boost medication adherence
- increase the efficiency of institutional workflows
- optimize access to healthcare, especially in under-served, remote, and rural areas
- decrease the costs of treatment and care
- reduce waste and supply costs for healthcare providers
- free up doctors’ time.
However, the path to mHealth incorporation into clinical care is fraught with challenges. Some of the most common obstacles that may hinder effective use of mHealth solutions are:
- lack of standardization and compatibility
- reliance on technology (connectivity, smart devices)
- varying levels of accuracy across different solutions
- data protection and privacy concerns.
Common mobile health applications
Mobile health (mHealth) apps are becoming an increasingly powerful tool for patients to protect their health over the long term. The full scope of the clinical value of mHealth solutions is still being scrutinized; however, evidence already exists that corroborates the huge potential of the technology in the following domains.
Remote health monitoring
Remote health monitoring (or remote patient monitoring, RPM) utilizes health monitoring devices and mobile phones to monitor and manage a patient’s health outside of the medical setting. RPM devices collect vital health information, such as heart rate, blood pressure, sleep quality, etc. and transmit it to healthcare professionals, enabling them to manage their patients’ health remotely.
Common examples of RPM applications include mobile apps that monitor insulin levels in diabetes patients and alert physicians of spikes in readings, or wearable patches that track ECG data for high-risk cardiovascular patients.
Diagnostic and treatment support
These telehealth solutions provide a preliminary assessment of a patient’s condition to perform a pre-appointment diagnosis and triage. They help mitigate the cost and travel time for patients living in remote areas, and alert providers to deliver immediate medical advice and support in emergency cases.
An interesting example comes from Singapore, where a mobile app has been developed to make an initial assessment of chronic wounds based on photos taken by the patient and send the preliminary diagnostics to the patient’s physician.
Disease and epidemic outbreak tracking
Combined with connected diagnostic devices, mobile applications can collect data from multiple sources to detect and monitor outbreaks and better target medical resources. This interesting application of mHealth solutions helps policymakers and health providers contain the spread of epidemics through mobile app-based surveillance.
We have recently seen how mobile surveillance has proven instrumental in China’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this case was by no means unprecedented. Mobile phone applications had been used before for early detection and strategic containment of avian flu, TB, and malaria.
Several years ago, Senegalese authorities leveraged cell phones to educate millions of citizens about Ebola virus prevention and control in a massive awareness campaign.
Mobile health apps find broad application in medication management, allowing elderly patients, the chronically ill, and persons with decreased mobility to pick up and renew prescriptions, keep track of their medication intake, and set up reminders to observe their medication routine.
By developing mHealth apps and making them available to patients, healthcare providers and public health organizations can boost medication adherence and alleviate the results of skipping or confusing doses. mHealth solutions also present opportunities in the clinical trial market, estimated at $64 billion. By providing a convenient, fast, and secure way to remotely collect patient data in real time, these mobile applications can greatly improve trial participation and efficiency.
Network connectivity and preventive healthcare
Fitness trackers, smart watches, patient monitoring equipment, and other mHealth devices cannot function on their own. To provide a complete, reliable image of a patient’s condition and ensure timely response, they must be trusted to stay connected for extended periods of time.
How is connectivity enabling preventive care?
In medical data transmission, reliable and consistent connectivity is crucial. Without continuous and precise data capture and real-time, secure data transmission, mHealth solutions cannot offer an optimized care pathway and allow preventive strategies to be effective. The need for relevant and accurate medical information makes connectivity one of the most important aspects of health IT infrastructure.
Mobile medical care solutions may be connected via wireless and wired networking. Wired networks, despite their reliability and speed, are restricted to use in a closed environment. Therefore, they are not a good match for preventive care that requires frequent data updates, irrespective of the patient’s whereabouts. Because of the ubiquitous access and flexibility they provide, wireless connectivity standards make a better choice in this context. The question remains what type of connection provides the highest reliability and speed to ensure consistent, secure data transmission between patients and their provider’s many devices?
For now, Wi-Fi remains the default mode of connecting mHealth devices, as it is the most affordable and offers good coverage that enables monitoring of patients in transit. However, cellular transmission is believed to be the most suitable for sending medical data.
First of all, mHealth devices can connect to mobile networks everywhere, which is particularly useful for patients on the move. The currently available 4G LTE technology is fast, efficient, and much more resistant to security vulnerabilities than Wi-Fi, which is imperative when data security is at stake. Cellular connectivity also offers remote SIM provisioning that allows for fast deployment of medical devices anywhere in the world.
It’s anticipated that the advances in fifth-generation (5G) communication will bring even more opportunities to mHealth adoption in disease prevention, through superior performance, reduced latency, higher capacity, and massive device connectivity. With current 5G deployment in over 40 countries across the world (including South Korea, China, UAE, USA, Germany, Kuwait, Poland, Qatar, with varying levels of progression), the technology promises to push the adoption of mHealth solutions in healthcare prevention even further. Find out more about how the speed and responsiveness of wireless 5G communications are driving the energy sector.
Find out more about how the speed and responsiveness of wireless 5G communications are driving the energy sector.
Connecting healthcare apps to mobile devices
As stated, a mobile health app cannot function in isolation. Today, the mHealth connectivity ecosystem is quite well developed, and it comprises a wide range of connected systems, including:
- third-party health and fitness data points published as open APIs
- wearables, sleep trackers, step counters, and other health-monitoring and sensor devices
- API aggregation services (like Apple Healthkit, Google Fit, or Samsung Health), which gather API data from
- various sources and feed it into mHealth applications
- electronic Health Records, patient portals, prescribing software, medical databases, etc.
Together, they build truly comprehensive, intelligent mHealth solutions that pull and process data from multiple sources to advise patients on disease management and prevention based on personalized information. Instrumental for the development of these interconnected health systems are intelligent digital solutions providers.
Combining IT expertise and healthcare domain knowledge, these systems create custom and off-the-shelf platforms that provide the integration layer between various participants of the mHealth ecosystem, making way for a complete, accessible, and personalized healthcare experience.
The bottom line
The digital transformation of healthcare is imminent, and mHealth is among the key advances that mark the era of more accessible, individualized healthcare. Mobile health solutions are helping resolve some pervasive challenges in the healthcare industry, including the lack of efficient and cost-effective methods of disease prevention.
To realize the benefits of mHealth and accelerate its adoption, governments and health institutions may leverage the expertise of companies such as Intellias, which maximize value creation of complex mHealth solutions through integration and coordination of systems and devices.
In a follow-up to this article, we will investigate the technical aspects of telehealth solutions in more detail, delving into technologies that enable the provisioning of high-quality healthcare services to a global population of patients. Contact us for more insights.