mHealth enthusiasm: Is the industry overhyped?

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The joys of mHealth are many. CIOs nationwide are testing smartphone programs, tablet deployment, and remote patient monitoring projects in droves. They are real projects with potentially real outcomes.

But the rhetoric surrounding mHealth continues to be overblown, according to three experts' opinions we ran across over the past couple of weeks. And those individuals have a point: Mobile technology in healthcare has generated an enthusiasm that far outstrips its established benefits just yet.

For example, a blog post written earlier this month by Sanjay Basu, M.D., Ph.D. at EpiAnalysis, points out that proponents are wildly excited about the potential for smartphone-enabled healthcare monitoring, diagnosis and tracking in the developing world, particularly in deeply rural settings. But mobile technologies, he says "are just likely to be widely hyped but used by individuals in limited contexts as another tool for good practice rather than a panacea to global health problems.

"It will be difficult to construct a massively-well-coordinated universally-acceptable health communication infrastructure via mobile phones to provide rural healthcare in poor settings," Basu adds.

Basu posits that it's more likely that smartphones will allow already tech-savvy clinicians to use a small number of apps or reference tools, and communicate in limited ways (text messaging drug reminders, for example) with patients. "But it's unlikely that we'll see mHealth generate mass mortality benefits in the near future," he warns.

Another blogger, physician Layla McCay with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, complains about security issues simply being left in the wake of runaway mobile development. And she's not optimistic about such issues catching up anytime soon. Put simply: We're trying to "shut the door after the horse has bolted," she says.

"Health professionals and patients alike are already starting to compromise on security to access the potential -- emails, text messages, apps, and more," McCay adds. "While there are plenty of secure solutions out there, some are unwieldy and expensive."

At this point, legions of apps and mobile software already allow siphoning of personal identifiable information, without the users' knowledge or consent, and McCay isn't sure whether even the vendors creating the technology--let alone the security firms trying to lock it down--will ever be able to plug all the holes.

"Data security [now is] digital, and a physical lock can't protect these records. The question is whether anything can," she says.

The final "rant" came from Mike Martineau with Canadian Health Technology. His firepower was aimed at something a little less tangible--the term "mHealth." Martineau disagrees with many who see mobile healthcare as a separate, unique market with its own rules and goals.

Mobile healthcare, he insists, is simply a new channel for delivering existing online resources--EHRs, imaging, data, etc.--and making them useable for users.

"Does [the] smaller size [of mobile devices] really warrant a new and distinct term? Or, is mHealth really just marketing spin to create hype?" he asks.

Martineau insists he's a proponent of mobile tech in healthcare, but simply as a part of the continuum. His fear: That designating "mHealth" as a discrete service or market is "risks splitting health IT advocates into separate camps at a time when we all need to be working together to promote health IT in general."

So tell us at FierceMobileHealthcare what you think.

  • Is global mHealth enthusiasm overblown?
  • Has development completely outstripped security in the mobile health market?
  • Is mHealth even a valid term for this industry?

We're excited to hear your thoughts. Comment here, or shoot me an email.

To learn more:
- check out the EpiAnalysis blog post 
- read Layla McCay's blog at the Huffington Post
- dig into Martineau's rant about "mHealth"

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Johns Hopkins to evaluate efficacy of health apps