Growing ‘App’etite for Mobile Health

CTIA_TWA_K_BIGFeel like you have a cold, or the blues and want to learn more? Or maybe you just want to keep better track of your calories or find out whether you’re really working out hard enough to get back in shape. It turns out there’s an app for that. All of that, actually, and much more. It’s currently estimated that there are 40,000 mobile health applications that are providing wireless users with unequalled access to information and capabilities, and are dramatically changing how we control our personal health and our lives.

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Much of the innovation in the mhealth application world is being put to use in highly developed countries, where smartphone usage is higher than in middle- or low-income nations. A key reason for that is wireless carriers have significantly invested in their network infrastructures, making them more advanced and better able to transmit high-speed, wireless data. In fact, this past year U.S. carriers alone sank more than $30 billion into network investments.

State-of-the-art wireless technology permits a panoply of data-intensive services, such as real-time video conferencing between surgeons, chronic disease management and monitoring, or diagnostic evaluation of medical tests, such as MRI’s or CT scans. It’s also spawned incredible growth in consumer facing mhealth applications, largely geared toward health and fitness usage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on final regulatory guidelines that will have a substantial impact on mobile health applications. It is determining which kinds of devices and functions will be regulated by the federal government. The FDA claims it is striking a ‘balanced approach’ to the issue, saying that fitness, wellness, and medical resource applications will not be regulated. On the other hand, it is likely that mobile apps that control devices critical to a patient’s health or measure factors, such as vital signs, will be subjected to federal oversight.

Congress has also expressed a greater interest in mobile health applications, and the process by which they will be evaluated by the FDA. The sooner the FDA issues its final guidelines, the better. Clarity in this area will be beneficial to consumers wanting to use the various applications, and to the developers working to make them available.

Another vital factor in expanding the benefits of mhealth to millions of Americans is the reimbursement and qualification side of the equation. Healthcare coverage providers need to expand their thinking about the benefits and services they cover to include in this rapidly growing world of mobile health. They need to recognize that arcane models are no longer applicable and that mhealth has fantastic potential to put each of us in the driver’s seat of our personal well-being. Wireless technology means lower healthcare costs, better diagnoses and treatment, and more informed consumers. That’s just what the doctor ordered.

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