As users are expected to have 7.4 billion mobile subscriptions by 2015, mobile technology is proving it can bring tangible improvement in health care, according to a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Telenor Group, a mobile operator based in Norway.
The companies presented the results of the survey on Feb. 28 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
For the study, "Socio-Economic Impact of mHealth," researchers examined the potential of mobile health projects in 12 countries, including Thailand, India and Norway.
The necessary mobile health infrastructureincluding wireless capacity and even the capabilities of simple feature phonesis in place to boost the quality of care and to lower health system costs, the study said.
"Technology is not the bottleneck," Eugene Goh, a principal at BCG, told eWEEK. "The challenge is aligning multiple stakeholders and incentives in each country."
The incentives system needs to be overhauled to allow doctors to get paid for sending text messages or email, Goh said, adding, "Incentives in the health care profession are designed for the premobile era."
In the United States, the Obama administration has proposed that doctors group themselves into accountable care organizations (ACOs) and be paid based on patient outcomes rather than visits.
Areas in which mobile apps can improve health care include patient monitoring and compliance, disease prevention, public wellness, remote data access and health surveillance, according to the report.
In addition, advanced medical appliances can connect with smart devices. In one case, the HP TouchPad enables doctors to control MRI scanners.
On Feb. 22, AirStrip launched its new Patient Monitoring application to display patients' vital data, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and blood pressure, on the Apple iPhone or iPad. Mobile devices can also connect to diabetes equipment such as glucometers to transmit blood sugar readings to physicians.
Mobile technology also can reduce the costs of elder care by 25 percent, according to BCG. The Center for Technology and Aging is working to help older people adopt technology and maintain independence.
Telenor is spearheading several projects to boost the role of mobile technology in health care. In Norway, the company has initiated an assisted-living project involving mobile alarm systems that allow seniors to remain in their homes longer. In one project, public health officials are using mobile text-messaging services to conduct epidemic surveillance in Thailand.
Another Telenor pilot brings telehealth services to rural areas in India.
With the existence of telehealth, doctors can now reach twice as many rural patients as in the past, BCG reported. In the United States, companies such as American Well and Consult A Doctor offer telehealth services.
Still, as mobile health projects grow worldwide, many struggle to reach scale, according to Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and CEO of Telenor.
"Both regulatory actions and ecosystem collaboration are required to create the necessary scale," Baksaas said in a statement. "We need to commit to common standards, increase access to mobile services and document the impact of mobile health."
Few pilot projects become a sustainable business model that can serve an entire country, said BCG's Goh. Standardization of mobile platforms, as with the Apple iOS or Google Android, can bring additional mobile health innovation, he added.
The Apple iOS is one standard platform that has caught on in health care. In its May 2011 report "Taking the Pulse U.S. 11.0," Manhattan Research revealed that 75 percent of doctors in the United States owned an Apple device such as the iPhone or iPad as of the first quarter of 2011.
The BCG report cites maternal and child health as areas in which mobile technology can be especially helpful. Short Message Service (SMS) tools can provide aid to pregnant mothers, said Goh. An example is the app Text4Baby, a U.S. text-messaging service that provides text-length health information to women about pregnancy and infant care. Meanwhile, radiologists can connect ultrasound equipment to mobile devices and send the data to other doctors using SMS or email for a diagnosis or second opinion.
Remote monitoring is a growing trend in mobile health, and Qualcomm is one company taking an active role in this area. In December, it launched 2net, a cloud platform that receives patient biometric data from mobile devices.
For patients in Norway and Denmark diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), remote monitoring through mobile technology has helped reduce nights in the hospital and re-admissions by 50 to 60 percent, said Goh.