Does mHealth live up to the hype?

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The mobile health (mHealth) industry is on the rise in both emerging and developed markets; offering the potential to help transform the delivery of healthcare, and tackle its ever-growing cost and demand.1

But how do we actually define the term itself? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mHealth is the “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistances and other wireless devices”.2 mHealth can therefore encompass a whole host of applications, from simple text reminders, to mobile video consultations and diagnoses. The use of mHealth is increasingly being expanded to support doctor-patient communication, patient education, adherence to treatment and accessibility to healthcare services.3 Particularly for those living in rural areas, the time available to spend with a care team can be extremely limited. Yet with a smartphone and mHealth app in hand, patients could potentially have the ability to connect with a provider from any location.

Accompanying this ease of accessibility with their low barrier to entry and generally low production cost has meant mHealth apps have been developed across an array of therapy areas and risk reduction behaviors. As the leading cause of preventable and premature death worldwide (according to WHO), tobacco use has been a key focus of mHealth app developers; creating apps that often incorporate tailored SMS-text reminders or telephone counselling.4

One recent study randomized 5,800 individuals to either a mHealth smoking cessation program or to a control group, to investigate the impact of the ‘txt2stop’ app. Those in the intervention group received motivational messages and behavior change support, while those in the control group received text messages unrelated to smoking cessation. At six months, the mHealth app more than doubled the likelihood of biochemically-verified sustained abstinence in the intervention group compared with the control group (10.7% vs. 4.9%).4,5  The long term impact of the intervention was not studied.

And it’s not just smoking cessation where mHealth technology has shown potential in improving care. Researchers at the University of California San Diego have begun developing a digital platform that can predict an individual’s blood pressure using data from wearables, and subsequently offer advice on how to keep the readings within a healthy range. The platform works via an algorithm based on sleep, exercise and blood pressure data from eight patients who wore a Fitbit Charge HR® and Omron Evolve ® wireless blood pressure monitor over a 30 day-period.6

By giving people access to their own health data and prompting them with simple yet tailored motivational reminders, mHealth solutions can encourage people to make healthier, more informed life choices.

 

References

  1. mHealth in the UK: Paths for growth. Available at: https://www.pwc.co.uk/mhealth. Accessed: February 2019.
  2. What is mHealth Technology? Available at: https://www.ausmed.com/articles/what-is-mhealth/. Accessed: February 2019.
  3. Marcolino MS et al. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2018; 6(1): e23.
  4. Kelli HM et al. Euro Med J Innov 2017; 2017: 92–97.
  5. Free C et al. Lancet 2011; 378(9785): 49–55.
  6. mHealth intelligence. Hypertension Research Uses mHealth Wearables to Improve Outcomes. Available at: https://mhealthintelligence.com/news/hypertension-research-uses-mhealth-wearables-to-improve-outcomes. Accessed: February 2019.

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