In the past decade, mobile healthcare (mHealth) has expanded exponentially by capitalising on the rapid growth of mobile networks. From encouraging self-health management to making informed health-related decisions, from enhancing clinician communication to improving healthcare accessibility, mHealth has revolutionised the health sector, especially in the developing countries.
However, as with any other medical practice, it is not immune to challenges. If we overcome these hindrances, the benefits of mHealth will reach even a broader population. But before finding the solutions to these challenges, let’s understand the fundamental essence of mHealth and how it impacts both physicians and patients.
Objectively speaking, mHealth is an ecosystem that enables you to ingratiate your fitness regimes with mobile devices. Initially, it was restricted to sharing reports, prescriptions, remedies and problems. But now, mHealth has expanded its horizon by adapting to a more personalised approach through the implementation of custom mobile apps for healthcare.
To put it simply, mHealth refers to the practice of public health, medicine and care support through mobile devices such as mobile phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), tablet computers and wearable devices (smartwatches), among others.
mHealth has immense potential, and it has been estimated that its global market size will reach $316.8 billion by 2027.
Are mHealth and eHealth the Same Concept?
People often confuse mHealth with eHealth, but they are not the same concept. The field of mHealth is a sub-segment of eHealth. Therefore, it is more nuanced and specific than the latter. Though the platform of eHealth is larger, the audience of mHealth is more concentrated. This helps in providing solutions more directly and conveniently.
Now that you have a clear idea of how mHealth works, time to look into the challenges that pose threats to its growth.
Biggest Challenges That mHealth Faces Today
Yes, the future of mobile healthcare solutions is promising, but that is not set in stone. Instead of being complacent about its certainty and success, firstly, healthcare providers have to tackle various challenges that concern the implementation of the mHealth programs. These challenges can arise from both external and internal sources. The most critical challenges among them are as follows:
The nucleus of mHealth lies in the transparent interactions between patients and healthcare providers. Unfortunately, many apps fail to facilitate this much-required fluid engagement, and the conversation ends up feeling like a monologue instead of a dialogue.
The apps have been built to transport vital data and information between the two stations – patients and doctors. If an app fails in enhancing this experience, it essentially fails at delivering its purpose.
Interaction is only successful when patients are provided with the treatment-related information that they need. Therefore, it is necessary to make the apps more user-friendly so that patients can easily schedule or cancel an appointment, request prescriptions and have better access to health records. Similar to a physical medical centre, having a 24×7 consulting service is mandatory because emergencies can take place at any time of the day.
Data security is a wing that no healthcare organisation should ignore, especially when it comes to mHealth. Also, patient information should be given the confidentiality it deserves. This includes resolving billing, payment issues, and safeguarding diagnosis reports, among others.
However, cyberattacks are far too common that endanger the privacy and safety of confidential information. Sending and receiving data over a wireless network opens up the possibility of theft and other related cybercrimes.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that a mobile storage and retrieval system is provided to allow the app to handle sensitive data. At the same time, it should be resistant to cyberattacks and threats.
Several provisions can be adopted to take care of this issue. For instance, mHealth providers must enable data encryption, set up firewalls, formulate an efficient Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) framework, and ensure that both the Electronic Health Records (EHR) and mHealth systems are safeguarded as per HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) guidelines, among others.
In the context of mHealth, interoperability refers to the seamless flow of patient health information between the different medical departments. Due to the remote nature of this program, mobile healthcare providers need to ensure that the different departments within the medical organisation can communicate with one another in a protected environment.
It is often seen that people focus more on the functionality of the software and the devices instead of interoperability. Along with paying attention to the functionality, the interoperability should also be prioritised to have a smooth overall operation.
A well interoperable healthcare system makes it easier for clinicians and doctors to make the right medical decisions regarding the health of their patients since it calls for the timely availability of precise information from EHR. It also helps in remote managing of chronic diseases and overall health monitoring.
A holistic care model would be incomplete without interoperability. Thus, healthcare providers should set up a cohesive digital health environment instead of letting all the departments work in silos.
Lack of User-Friendly Interface
Everyone is not tech-savvy. If the app is too difficult to use or complex in appearance, the chances are high that patients will turn their back on them.
Hard-to-comprehend and unintuitive digital products can make patients frustrated. When they are already worried about their health, they will fluster even more while using an app that is too demanding or requires a lot of effort.
This is one of the most difficult challenges for the mHealth sector because different patients would access the same app from different devices. As a result, it demands an interface that can run on all devices.
So, once the app is created, it’s crucial to test the usability. The key factor here is to align three elements of app development – integration, use and interpretation so that patients have a user-friendly interface.
This is in the same tangent as with the previous point; however, it has a more literal connotation to it. The issue here is that you can’t expect the patients to know the medical jargons used in the medical fraternity.
So, healthcare providers have to analyse and think from a user perspective. This would involve studying and researching the health literacy level of the patients, and then, computing an experience that would resonate with them.
There is a definite gap in knowledge. And the challenge lies in filling the gap efficiently by adapting to a health literacy level that lies in the threshold of both patients and doctors.
Bonus Tip: Connectivity to Medical Tools
Different people use different medical tools such as glucometers, fitness bands and blood pressure monitors, to name a few. Mobile healthcare providers should ensure that all these tools can be easily connected to the app to provide an uninterrupted and smooth experience.
The ultimate goal of mHealth is to provide value-based care services that are not only aimed at improving the health of the patients but are also economical and safe by nature. Therefore, in the continuous journey of digital health transformation, patients should be kept at the centre of the healthcare process.