The healthcare industry is always striving to improve by discovering modern cures for diseases, implementing cutting edge technology, and enhancing patient care for better hospital experience.
Yet, the healthcare industry has lagged owing to external factors like pollution, people's sedentary lifestyle, the increase in population or contamination of water sources, which is leading to higher cases of patients with chronic diseases and consequently higher hospital visits and demands.
A WHO report states that by 2020 end, patients with chronic diseases will rise to 57%, as opposed to 46% in 2001.
Over the last decade, this rise in diseases and patients is being dealt with through mobile healthcare apps or mHealth apps. This increase in leveraging mobile phones to address health issues stems from an increase in mobile phone users, making them the easiest and fastest way to reach a patient or a doctor.
According to Statista, over 3 billion people use smartphones in the world today. Research by AppInventiv shows that at least 400 billion apps were downloaded in 2019 and that mobile users spend 87% of their time on a mobile app and only 13% on the mobile web.The mHealth apps are bridging the gap between facilities and patients. It is helping patients get consultations faster and get test results more quickly. On the other hand, it is assisting the doctors in giving prognosis faster, start on treatment sooner, and ultimately lead to a faster cure.
Reasons for The Rise in Healthcare Apps
Technology in the healthcare industry encompasses a wide range of possibilities such as remote checkups, drug prescriptions and delivery. Along with that, appointment setting, patient flow streamlining, electronic lab results, fitness guides, and much more are also done.
Mobile Health apps are already available on a large scale, with at least 100,000 of them already available across app stores. The mHealth app audience encompasses the entire healthcare circle like patients, physicians, pathologists, technicians, pharma reps, etc.
The following reasons are contributing to the growth of mHealth apps:
- The rapid rise in chronic diseases has increased the need for healthcare personnel to reach patients faster, and vice versa, for faster treatment. Patients with chronic illnesses also need to visit the hospital more often, and this need can be alleviated through mHealth apps.
- Patients are looking for convenient ways to reach doctors for a quick consultation and to avoid hospital visits in minor cases. Hospitals are also looking to reduce headcount at facilities by providing solutions for small cases through mHealth apps.
- There's a need to reduce the time taken between diagnosis and cure, and mHealth apps help achieve this by streamlining consultation and hospital visits, providing test results electronically, allowing doctors to run tests remotely, etc.
- mHealth applications that help users improve lifestyle, well-being and fitness are becoming increasingly popular. Fitness, nutrition and diet, and lifestyle management are currently domains that are in demand and in fact, account for the majority of mHealth applications.
- Healthcare fraternity is embracing mHealth applications. Professional recommendations are increasing the adoption rate of mHealth apps among patients.
- Major healthcare players like Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd GlaxoSmithKline plc Merck and Co., Inc., and Pfizer have released mHealth applications, and the increased competition is contributing to the rise in the market.
Key Features Why Mobile Apps Will Lead The Future
Here are some key features of mHealth apps that make them accessible and contribute to the rapid use of these applications:
1. Patient Condition Monitoring
The mHealth apps and supporting devices, like Welch Allyn iExaminer Adapter and Ophthalmoscope, can be used to test and monitor a patient's condition remotely. The information received can then be sent to a physician for a diagnosis. Doctors can track a patient's medical condition and provide proactive medical advice. This reduces the time for diagnosis, and hence for healing.
2. Easy Appointment Booking and Scheduling
Scheduling apps let patients set appointments at the hospital, clinic, and diagnostic centres. Real-time updates keep both patients and the hospital informed about appointment status. These apps are helping healthcare facilities improve patient flow within a centre for better patient experience.
3. Easy Access to Lab Results and Reports
The mHealth apps with centralized data storage collate all records of a patient in one location, with access via a frontend dashboard. Patients can access this information (unless sensitive) and get lab and diagnostic results. Hospitals and doctors also access these records for a quick understanding of a patient's medical history.
4. Quick Billing
Queues at the billing window of a hospital not only cause inconvenience but also cause bottlenecks within the facility that interrupt the smooth patient flow. Healthcare apps provide an easy solution by allowing payments to be made online.
5. Lifestyle Management
Wellness management apps that run on smartphones and smartwatches track a users workout regime, monitor fitness condition, recommend exercises and diet, etc. Regardless of a user's busy schedule, they always have their smartphone or watch with them, and these apps foster activity to help users cultivate better habits and lifestyle.
6. Better Medical Treatment
The ability to track a patient's medical condition in real-time helps doctors take proactive steps to provide medical solutions, giving patients a higher chance for recovery. Modern technology also reduces the chances of diagnostic errors.
7. Streamlined Workflows and Processes
Every branch of the healthcare industry follows strict protocols and workflows. For example, before a clinical trial can be conducted, the facility needs to go through rigorous legal procedures, and this involves multiple contracts with participants and vendors. A digital solution that streamlines this process will save the facility time, effort and money.
Examples of Successful mHealth App Solutions
- Epocrates: Epocrates is a medical reference app developed by Athenahealth. It allows users to get quick information about diseases and check for interactions between drugs and the various side effects. This app helps to send instant messages to healthcare personnel and know the DEA/FDA status of drugs and their prices, etc. Athenahealth upgraded Epocrates for improved user experience according to this case study.
- Omron HeartGuide: Omron's wearable device, HeartGuide, is the first blood pressure monitoring device that is wearable. It tracks the wearer's heart rate and blood pressure, syncs this data with the companion app HeartAdvisor and shares this data with the user's physician. It tracks the user's behaviour, sleep patterns, etc. and its impact on their blood pressure to give insights on how to improve lifestyle.
- AliveCor: AliveCor is a remote ECG solution that helps users take medical-grade electrocardiograms in just 30 seconds. It comes with an easy to use a mobile pad that syncs with the app (iOS and Android). Users place their fingers on the pad, which monitors their heart rate and delivers results directly on the application.
- Oticon HearingFitness: Oticon produces hearing aids and supporting technology, and their HearingFitness™ app, which was released in 2018 helps patients understand the impact of their lifestyle and health habits on their treatment and overall well-being.
- Sensio Air: Sensio Air is an anti-allergy solution that comes with an air detector and a supporting mobile application. The device tracks particles in the air and is capable of differentiating between mould, dust mites, pollen and dander. The mobile app provides a real-time view of air quality and possible allergens in the air.
Challenges Faced by mHealth Companies
Owing to the sensitive nature of the medical industry, mHealth applications face certain hurdles that other technical apps do not:
Patient Data Privacy
Patient data requires to be private as per the law. This creates issues for app developers because they get direct access to patient records and data. Working around this to secure data and create authentication protocols to limit the exposure of patient data is a significant concern in the mHealth industry.
Compliance and Regulations
The healthcare industry is strictly controlled by regulatory bodies, like HIPAA in the U.S., for example. The mHealth app developers need to ensure that every feature and service being provided remains compliant with the law and within the mandates set by the regulatory bodies. Similarly, applications that are in the lifestyle and nutrition domain need to stay compliant with the food administration, like the FDA.
The Cloud is the modern and currently the most effective solution for storage, speed and accessibility. Data stored on the Cloud is independent of user device storage and is easy to access. This, however, increases vulnerabilities and the risk of data being hacked, or stolen.
Integration with Legacy Systems & Interoperability
While mHealth applications are relatively new, the healthcare industry has been utilizing technology for data storage and processing since over a decade. Integrating modern solutions with these legacy systems and syncing historical data with modern apps is a challenge faced by app developers.
Additionally, the healthcare industry is extensive, with multiple service verticals. Creating apps that are interoperable with other apps or machines is a challenge.
Reliability of Information
While app developers need to follow strict rules when providing medical and health-related information, a user cannot verify if the information being provided is accurate and a result of thorough research.
Despite these challenges, however, the mobile health industry continues to see positive growth. In fact, according to Statista, the digital health market is expected to reach over 200 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, and the highest contributor to this growth is the mHealth market.
Technology is evolving, and modern solutions are proving to be extremely beneficial, especially in the healthcare sector. Blockchain technology is providing developers with a safe security solution for protecting user data.
The Internet of Things aims to connect patients with physicians and facilities for real-time diagnosis and medical care. With modern solution available, the demand and growth of mHealth apps are only going to grow in subsequent years.