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mHealth's potential continues to grow, but roadblocks exist

By Jeff Rowe, Contributing Writer

These days, it's nearly impossible to get through a conversation about the role of technology in medicine without the word "mHealth" popping up.

But despite the seemingly daily introduction of new gadgets – and new uses for those gadgets – those who have been involved in telemedicine in recent years can be forgiven for viewing mHealth as essentially telemedicine without wires.

Still, the portability and flexibility of new devices has given rise to an exciting array of new opportunities for the practice of telemedicine. To help explore this fast-growing market, the ATA is offering a full-day session titled "Making mHealth Work: How mHealth Can Be Integrated into Today's Healthcare System" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Convention Center, Ballroom A1. Among other things, this session will explore the everyday use of mHealth technology as an integrated part of healthcare delivery.

Jumping the mHealth hurdles

Napoleon Monroe

For Napoleon Monroe, managing director of New Directions Technology Consulting, LLC, patients have always been "a part of the healthcare system, but they've essentially been receivers of the system's services and products." In other words, communication has been a one-way street from the doctor to the patient.

Now, however, the communications landscape is changing as "smartphones and other consumer devices facilitate two-way, mobile communication."

Despite the opportunities, Monroe says, there are a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before mHealth can begin to live up to its potential.

For starters, he said he has concerns about how the regulatory system will be able to keep up with the pace of change, noting that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)  is "probably feeling inundated" by a market in which new devices are introduced so regularly.

Next, there's the issue of how to design mobile devices for patient and/or caregiver use. In the past, Monroe said, devices given to patients sat at home with them, "but now they have to be durable, secure and reliable."

Sunil Hazaray

Echoing Monroe's concerns, Sunil Hazarary, chief commercial officer for the Authentidate Holding Corp. and chairman of the ATA's mHealth Discussion Group, notes that while the FDA has tried to start defining the regulatory process for mHealth stakeholders, "they need to make sure they don't stifle innovation even as they need to protect the public's interests."

Despite their concerns about the development of a smooth regulatory process for mHealth, both Monroe and Hazaray are optimistic about the prospects of mHealth.

In Hazaray's eyes, "the single biggest stakeholder" in the emerging mHealth landscape are the payers, as they see healthcare costs continuning to rise, with more than 70 percent of those costs coming from patients with chronic conditions.

At the same time, he said, providers want the new technology because they're coming under increasing pressure to control costs, and "patients like it because it untethers them.  Now, they can live at home" and use the new technology to stayed "plugged into" their provider's services.

As for Monroe, he's confident the bumps in the road won't slow the incorporation of mHealth into existing systems.

"Do we stop?" he asked. "Or do we say we might make a few mistakes, introducing a few things that may not pan out, but we keep going?"

Noting again the "need for appropriate regulation," he added: "You're not going to stop the advances of technology, and to try to do so is inappropriate."

In short, the potential is just too great.


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