Smartphone penetration has increased significantly over the last decade, with figures up to 81% in the U.S., as of 2016 (Lella, 2017). Additionally, the number of health apps on iOS and Android devices have more than doubled in the last 3 years, to over 325,000 as of 2017 (Pohl, 2017).
As treatments have advanced for acute conditions, many of these have become chronic conditions, resulting in the net rise in the cost of healthcare as patients are spending more money managing these long-term health issues. Simultaneously, the mobile health market has dramatically risen, in an attempt to meet the needs of healthcare consumers who are learning to better manage their conditions.
While the availability of digital health tools can provide opportunities for both patients and providers to manage and improve health outcomes, there are also a number of barriers to the wide-scale adoption of these tools.
There are many benefits of technology enabled care for both patients and providers.
For example, a patient who is diabetic, and needs assistance in managing their diabetes, can download an app that will help them monitor their sugar intake, medicine usage, carb count, and exercise. All of this information can be tracked and shared easily with their provider. Providers in turn are able to rely on trustworthy and accurate data when modifying their patient’s healthcare plan, reducing their paperwork and improving overall patient communication.
Patients feel more empowered to take care of their health, reporting higher satisfaction, increased confidence, and better treatment compliance (The Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, 2015).
A key development in the growth of the technology enabled care is the increasing availability of wearable devices. As bio-sensing wearables invade the market, such as heart rate monitor patches, wrist bands that monitor heartbeat, blood pressure, and calories expended, they are able to transmit data via an app.
While this provides physicians with the opportunity to maximize patient communication, there are several downsides. As the volume of apps and devices increases, so too does the amount of data they generate.
It can be difficult for physicians to effectively manage the data they are now privy to, without the formal training or protocol in place to understand these large datasets. Additionally, liability in case of something going wrong while a patient is using a digital health solution is also a risk.
As the size and scale of the global mobile health market increases, there is a great potential to reduce healthcare costs, increase access, and improve outcomes. The opportunity for improving healthcare outcomes for patients of all demographics is strong, but medical professionals and consumers alike need to be aware of potential pitfalls as well.
There needs to be a greater emphasis on training providers to effectively use these apps and sorting through the data they provide. Without providing comprehensive tools to assist physicians into this new age of technology enabled healthcare, patients will not be able to maximize the potential benefits available to them through these programs.
Lella, A. (2017, Feb 3). U.S. Smartphone Penetration Surpassed 80 Percent in 2016. Retrieved from comScore.com: https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Blog/US-Smartphone-Penetration-Surpassed-80-Percent-in-2016