Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 16, 2013

Mobile Devices Help to Bridge Healthcare Gap Found in Lower-Income Patients Worldwide in Underserved Regions

Mobile devices are increasingly being used to meet the healthcare needs of remote areas and other underserved regions, according to a new report.

GBI Research has found that mobile health, also called “mHealth,” is increasingly found in developing countries and other locations. It’s expanding significantly. In fact, the mHealth market could reach $60 billion by 2015, according to the GBI Research study.

Among the devices getting used in healthcare are mobile phones, laptops and tablets, based on a GBI statement on the study.

Globally, some $4 trillion is spent on healthcare each year. About 10 percent of that amount is being spent on healthcare in developing countries. These countries, however, represent over four fifths of the world’s population.

To meet the many needs of this sector, healthcare providers are taking advantage of the fact that wireless mobile signals cover over 85 percent of the population worldwide.

Mobile phone networks are located in nations with mostly low- and middle-income levels that do not have traditional healthcare facilities with doctors present in local communities. They would typically meet patients face-to-face in more affluent areas.

By using mHealth technology, medical information can be analyzed and physicians can use communication technology to interact with patients.

It becomes a patient-centered care delivery method.

To help coordinate this initiative, an organization called the mHealth Alliance was organized by the United Nations Foundation (UNF). It includes government offices, charities and software companies. Its initiatives include the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), and provide information to expectant mothers and mothers of newborns in Bangladesh, India and South Africa, who are from low-income households.

The information is distributed to women via mobile phones, relating to breastfeeding, immunization and local health resources. Other nations are seeking the program’s services as well.

In addition, mHealth technology is used for tracking various diseases. Examples are with malaria in Botswana and dengue fever in Mexico. With early detection, there’s less risk for epidemics of contagious diseases.

The alliance said there are five areas that need to be addressed: evidence building, standards and interoperability, sustainable financing, capacity building and policy. “This will only be achieved if all stakeholders (patients, healthcare professionals and providers, pharmaceutical industry, mobile network operators and governments) work together to determine the ways in which mHealth can add value and provide significant advantages over traditional routes of healthcare communication,” according to a GBI Research statement carried by HealthTechZone.

The GBI report, “Mobile Health (mHealth) Enhancing Healthcare and Improving Clinical Outcomes,” shows how mHealth was applied by the pharmaceutical industry in drug development and by healthcare providers in the developed and emerging economies to improve healthcare services and treatment outcomes, GBI said in a statement carried by HealthTechZone.

The pharmaceutical industry used mobile technology for recruiting patients, compliance and retention of clinical trials, marketing, consumer education, authentication of medications, and post-market surveillance.

mHealth improves communication between patients and healthcare providers. Patients have a more active role in their healthcare with mobile technology.

There is more use of mobile technology for healthcare delivery in the United States, as well. For instance, in northern New England, a consortium is expanding service to mobile health clinics. To do this, the New England Telehealth Consortium, based in Bangor, Maine, has awarded $500,000 for high-speed satellite services to Hughes Network Systems of Maryland. It will allow for increased use of video conferencing, prescription dispensing, transfer of electronic health records, viewing of digital medical images, voice calls and telemedicine.

"You can basically take the science and expertise of delivering health care to wherever these folks are," Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes, said in a statement carried by HealthTechZone.

Edited by Braden Becker

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