MHealth: Transforming the Face of Health Service Delivery
Rapid advances in mobile technologies and applications, a rise in new opportunities for the integration of mobile health into existing eHealth services, and the continued growth in coverage of mobile cellular networks have powered the change in the way health services are delivered across the globe.
According to the Global Observatory for eHealth, mHealth, although lacking a formal definition, is a “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices”. This branch is rather extensive and includes many ways that smart devices and apps can contribute to timely and effective healthcare, starting from a number of ways a patient or a potential patient can connect to hospitals (text messaging, electronic health records, care plans, remote consultation) to the ways they can use their smartphones and wearable devices with inbuilt sensors connectedly in order to measure various health indicators in their daily lives.
It is widely acknowledged that early diagnosis and prevention are key to a healthy and happy life, and nothing seems to be better fitted for achieving that goal than a device that constantly measures your heart rate and analyses it for potential deviations from normal heart activity. MHealth matters so much because it helps make compromises between our somewhat lazy nature, which makes it virtually impossible for us to go and see a doctor unless it is absolutely critical, and the need to take our health and our heart seriously.
How Effective are mHealth Behavior Change Interventions?
One of the fundamental tasks of mHealth is promotion of a lifestyle change for disease prevention, and it remains a matter of controversy whether mobile apps are indeed capable of driving this kind of change effectively.
In a study conducted in 2015 a total of about 700 patients with coronary heart disease were divided into two groups and randomly assigned to receive or not to receive text messages containing advice, information and motivation on diet and physical activity. After 6 months of research the participants who’d been receiving messages showed an improvement in blood pressure, body weight, smoking habits and physical activity through regular exercise by 25% on average. All these are risk factors for heart disease, and research like this just goes to show how much of an influence mobile health interventions can have on patients’ lifestyle and habits.
One of the issues that still hampers change for the better and that stands in the way of a cloudless future of preventative healthcare is the lack of practical value delivered by fitness trackers and smartwatches. Although the intention is obviously noble, it is not clear what exactly one is supposed to make of the data collected by the devices. One could say that it is not actionable, since knowing your heart rate and blood pressure means very little for you unless you are a healthcare professional.
On the other hand, if there was a way of tapping into a bank of expert knowledge and running the readings of a fitness tracker or a smartwatch against a database of data obtained from a variety of sources including wearable devices of other people, it could open a window to a much deeper understanding of what is happening inside our bodies and to trends that could be leveraged for building a global picture and achieving a healthier population worldwide.