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mHealth Defined

October 13, 2010

I remember attending a small event about 18 months ago that focused on the convergence of mobile and health. It was sponsored by a digital agency and the audience was made up of pharma people. The panelists were from mobile or digital research companies. One of them said, “If you didn’t get the Web right, forget about it. Move on. Mobile is where you need to focus.” I laughed then, but today I agree. mHealth’s potential to influence wellness and health outcomes worldwide can not be underestimated.

Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet Project posted a video of her talk The Power of Mobile, which she presented in September at a Mayo Clinic event.  I highly recommend viewing this video, or at least reading the transcript.  Susannah always provides so much more than data – her insights are what I look for.  In her words, “Mobile was the final front in the access revolution. It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the internet for many people.  Access isn’t the point anymore. It’s what people are doing with the access that matters.”

So what are people doing with mobile? Quite a bit. The lexicon can be confusing (at least to me) – many terms are thrown around like mobile health, mHealth, wireless medicine, telemedicine, telehealth. I happen to like the simplicity of mHealth. For a realistic definition, I turned to Dr. Felasfa Wodajo, a bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon in northern Virginia who is also senior editor at iMedicalApps. In his opinion mHealth refers to the use of mobile technologies to promote health and treat disease, especially when one of the users of the technology is a patient.

Here are some concrete examples of mHealth (in my opinion):

  • A liver transplant patient receives a text message reminding her to take medication
  • An ER physician receives an incoming patient’s EKG on his smartphone
  • A patient with arrhythmia wears a monitor that records and transmits cardiac events wirelessly to his cardiologist
  • Community health workers in rural Malawi use SMS to coordinate emergency care and track patients
  • A neurologist whips out his Blackberry and checks ePocrates before e-prescribing a new drug
  • A PCP uses the iStethoscope app on her iPhone to listen to a patient’s heartbeat and emails a copy to the office

For me, the best example of mHealth happened about a month ago when I took my son to the dentist. I checked in and the administrator immediately handed me an iPad and asked me to update my information. I was floored.  The patient intake form was a bit cumbersome, but I happily complied and supplied all of the requested information. I am hoping that my other physicians will embrace mobile, too.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Patricia Flaherty permalink
    October 14, 2010 12:56 am

    It would be safe to say that nearly every person in this country over the age of 5 has used and/or owns a cell phone, computer, ipad, or some other electronic device. Why wouldn’t the medical world embrace technology and use it to it’s fullest potential? Why are patients still filling out the same over copied medical history form each time they enter their doctor, dentist, orthodontist? The last thing a parent of a sick child needs is to fill out a 4 page form while clutching their screaming, feverish 3yr old. Login, confim, enter, done. Consistent, complete medical history for every patient a physician will ever see…how cool is that?

    • Bunny Ellerin permalink*
      October 16, 2010 8:50 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Patty. It infuriates me when I have to fill out the same basic info again and again and again. There are tools out there today, more providers need to adopt.

  2. October 14, 2010 9:25 am

    Great list and it would be great to hear more about your Dentist’s use of the iPad!

    It’s also worth being mindful of the successful mHealth applications that are already familiar, I made a list of them here that you might find useful:

    • Bunny Ellerin permalink*
      October 16, 2010 8:51 pm

      Dr Alan is just a great guy with a busy practice. He told me his office manager made him do it because he loves the Mac so much. Thanks also for the list. Great to know about.

  3. October 23, 2010 2:12 am

    Dear Bunny,

    Two things come to mind from your excellent piece of mobile and EHR. Saw a great presentation about mobile Web from Forrester, and the presenter said the Websites are dead, and the App Internet has arrived.

    Second was the story about Dave, Mr ePatient and how Google and his doctor messed up his health records badly when they uploaded and merged them. He had to spend time being the owner not only his data but the quality of that data. So, that lazy front-office person is not only behind the times, they are also potentially the one who screws up inputting your information when they are finally forced to go digital.



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