Thursday, 22 October 2015

mHealth Generation: An era of bringing healthcare to smartphones

mHealth Generation: An era of bringing healthcare to smartphones and ensuring its successful implementation

-          By Padma Shri Awardee Dr Marthanda Pillai, Honorary National President Indian Medical Association and Dr KK Aggarwal, President HCFI & Honorary Secretary General Indian Medical Association

Delegates from almost 60 national medical associations attended the annual General Assembly of the WMA in Moscow, which was held from 14th to 17th  October.  And all of them insisted on the importance of a few improvisations required for successfully leveraging Mobile Healthcare in the country. Not only it will help developing countries, but it will also help in wholistically improving the healthcare model in developed countries as well.

In today’s time, technology and the world both are developing at the highest pace. And the best example of this is the evolving movement of smartphones. Smartphones have made our lives easier by making things easily accessible and simultaneously saving our time. Not only, they have successfully transformed our lives but have also brought necessities much closer. For instance, how well the concept of mHealth (Mobile Health) has resonated with people from all across the globe.

According to WMA, “Mobile health (mHealth) is used to define the utilization of state-of-the-art technology in medical care. More specifically, it has been described as medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other devices intended to be used in connection with mobile devices. It includes voice and short messaging services (SMS), applications (apps), and the use of the global positioning system (GPS) for the successful deliverance of medical services.” 

mHealth is a broad concept and encompasses services like measurement or manual input of medical, physiological, lifestyle, activity and environmental data in order to fulfill their primary purpose. All this will result in data generation, which can be used for research into effective healthcare delivery and disease prevention. However, this data can also be misused if the required security checks are missed.
Although, there are a plethora of policies that safeguard the whole idea of mobile health and ensure security as certain levels including the collection, storage, protection and processing of data of mHealth users, especially health data. The Government should focus on educating people about how their personal data is collected, stored, protected and processed. Prior to any confirmation, consent must be obtained prior from the users to any disclosure of data to third parties, e.g. researchers, governments or insurance companies. These steps will help in avoiding any discrepancies, which may hinder the successful implementation of Mobile Health technology.
Mobile Health will be huge hit if monitoring and evaluation are done in accordance to stated rules and regulations. This will avoid any possibilities in breach of information and as well as the user’s trust. Additionally, timely monitoring and evaluation will help in avoiding any misuse of this technology and will also make it easier to measure the performance records with predetermined standards.
The Mobile Health should be made a universal concept and the access shouldn’t be denied based on factors like caste, financial status or lack of technical expertise. And wherever possible, social or healthcare services should facilitate access to mHealth technologies as part of basic benefit packages, while taking all the required precautions to guarantee data security and privacy.
Why is mHealth important?

·         Mobile technologies, being easily accessible can provide individual level support to health care consumers
·         It will promote healthcare, as apps that can track daily calorie intake, calories burn, exercises done and much more. All this will educate people on when they should stop
·         It will help people to get a top physician’s advice in emergency situations like sudden pain in case of pregnant women
·         With more and more giant tech players investing in a developing country like India, the smartphone network is likely to expand. Mobile Health will make it easier for people to access healthcare services from anywhere at anytime. Although the usage and availability may vary in some places.

Nowadays, multinational tech giants are making efforts towards manufacturing low-cost smartphones keeping purchasing power of the Indian population in mind. More and more people are adapting the smartphone craze, as they are getting all the hi-tech services and features in minimum amount. Additionally, these numbers are going to increase in the near future as India continues to develop and emerge as a global power.
The idea of mHealth has the remarkable potential to supplement the healthcare delivery model in a country, which has a population of 1.27 billion people. This will help in improving various fronts like patient self-management, establishing base for electronic interactions between patients and physicians and reducing the cost of the healthcare services.
The future of mHealth depends on new coordinated and well researched the plan of action will be.  The decisions that have been taken before for the implementation of Mobile healthcare system has been way too experimental in nature and doesn’t have any guarantee of data security and privacy. The technological arrangement should be such that it enables in achieving the ultimate desired results. An extensive plan and comprehensive approach is what is currently required for the successful integration of this technology into the regular healthcare infrastructure.

WMA guidelines:

·         Although, the WMA recognizes the advantages of mHealth, the patient should always opt for face-to-face interaction and treatment whenever possible

·         The need to eliminate deficiencies in the provision of care and to improve the quality of healthcare should be the two main objectives behind mHealth

·         Physicians and patients both should be aware about the potentials risks of using mHealth and should follow the guidelines strictly

·         A physician and a patient should clearly understand the difference between the use of mHealth for lifestyle purposes and the ones that require medical supervision and observation

·         The information provided must be clear, reliable and non-technical, and therefore comprehensible to lay people

·         Concerted work must go into improving the interoperability, reliability, functionality and safety of mHealth technologies, e.g. through the development of standards and certification schemes

·         Comprehensive and independent evaluations must be carried out by competent authorities with appropriate medical expertise on a regular basis in order to assess the functionality, limitations, data integrity, security and privacy of mHealth technologies

·         Suitable reimbursement models must be set up in consultation with national medical associations and healthcare providers to ensure that physicians receive appropriate reimbursement for their involvement in mHealth activities

·         A clear legal framework must be drawn up to address the question of identifying potential liability arising from the use of mHealth technologies

·         Physicians who use mHealth technologies to deliver healthcare services should heed the ethical guidelines set out in the WMA Statement on Guiding Principles for the Use of Telehealth for the Provision of Health Care

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