A new year is upon us, and looking back it’s pretty exciting and amazing to see how far the healthcare sector has come in all this while. 2015 was a special year in particular, where the healthcare sector shook hands with the mobile sector to begin delivering valuable health services to consumers.
Upon these lines, let’s take a look at what changes might be expected in the mHealth sector in 2016. In this article, I’ll be talking extensively about how consumer health will be influenced due to the developments in the mobile technology sector this year. I’ll also be highlighting key trends to look forward to as the year progresses.
SECTORS TO SEE GROWTH IN
Let’s forget about mobile technology for a bit and focus on the healthcare domain. When it comes to the healthcare sector, there are quite a few sectors which seem to show some potential for growth in the coming year.
ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS
The most notable one would have to be in the Electronic Health Records segment within the larger umbrella of the healthcare sector. Electronic Health Record Systems are perhaps one of the most important modules for medical practitioners and hospitals alike, and as of 2015 the existing systems were quite flawed.
The main issues with the existing EHR systems has been the interoperability factor – be it in the form of government regulations, hospital policies or mere technological gaps, significant challenges do exist when it comes to the widespread and effective sharing of electronic health information across the wide continuum of the healthcare sector.
Information blocking is the term that has been (un)officially assigned to this problem, and it is aptly done so. The persisting problem is in a way undermining the overall system of healthcare reform – with the backbone of the system shaped by the basic fundamental of accessing a patient’s history in a timely, useful manner.
While the current scenario can be amended through the inclusion of niche tools (expansion packs, if you will), these add-ons would in a way merely provide a complementary solution and not be game changers in the healthcare sector. And the problem is accentuated further if one considers the current healthcare-in-IT segment: current vendors run their own agendas when it comes to sharing patient data, and this confines the potential of seamless integration over different platforms.
The above statistic was part of a research conducted by Accenture in 2015. While the above stat merely indicates the services available to the patients online, for doctors the graphs are actually on a decline, owing to the problem of information blocking.
While the number of doctors in the U.S. are now more proficient in using electronic medical records services, they are dissatisfied because of information blocking. In fact, from the same research, 76 percent of the doctors surveyed claimed that interoperability of the currently available tools limits their ability to improve the quality of patient care through healthcare IT. (Source: Accenture)
In this regard, I honestly believe that mobile technologies could be the long overdue rectification of the problem. The current need of the hour is a seamless experience, which would bridge the gaps as far as interoperability is concerned. Mobile technologies such as big data analytics or cloud computing could actually aid in making medical records easier to use across different systems.
While directly comparing the cycle associated with a fitness tracker might be a tad bit far-fetched here, it does seek to inspire some amendments to the system.
Picture this: a doctor notes down the patient’s vitals on a tablet, or a web-based application, or even a smartphone. The data is synced with the dedicated cloud service of the EHR provider. This data – on the cloud, securely stored – can be downloaded on to a personal server (of the patient, either through a separate portal or simply downloading the data) and at the same time can be sent to a secure aggregator/analysis service for further assessment, if needed.
And the solution for interoperability? Here’s my wild bet: when a patient goes from Hospital A to Hospital B, Hospital B would not access the cloud data silos of Hospital A’s data, but instead access the personal data server of the patient. This way, it would provide a seamless experience (for one particular patient), while at the same time ensuring that no vendor takes a peek at the consumer base of another vendor.
Of course, the inclusion of mobile technology would have to go hand in hand with the current existing protocols in the segment. Government intervention would have to be a key to unlocking the potential of mobile technology in this sphere, and vendors will have to reach on an understanding to look at the greater good – which is creating a seamless, integrated continuum across the healthcare sector for the trifecta comprising of doctors, patients and healthcare software vendors.
ON DEMAND SERVICES – THE ‘UBERIFICATION’ OF HEALTHCARE
Let’s go over the underlying fundamental of the Quantified Self movement once again – a tracker seeks out and collects the data pertaining to a specific individual, sends it to a service which analyses and aggregates the data, and then this data is presented to the user in the form of insightful graphs and charts. A simple flowchart, in essence.
One thing which most lifeloggers take for granted is the availability of the tracking device, algorithms associated and the aggregator/analyser service (in the form of an app) – all these three parameters are available on demand for the user.
Now imagine, what if the healthcare segment became a big, on demand movement.
On demand services in the healthcare domain would probably be the next big thing for the sector. Through the availability of services – either as in-person deliverables (in the form of medical products being delivered to the doorstep of the user or house visits by practitioners) or as real-time / virtual fulfilment (in the form of online services), one thing can be quite evident: on demand services are quite exciting and have huge potential.
Startups are already beginning to show quite some calibre in this regard. Brands such as Postmeds, Pager, Heal and Zipdrug are names in the deliverable sector – providing drugs, medications and even healthcare personnel directly to the consumers’ home or workplaces.
Teladoc and Doctor on Demand are other interesting services which allow consumers to directly interact with doctors via live video chats. In India, we have services such as Practo which provide practitioner details, and we’re also seeing pathology and blood testing laboratories which can be contacted so that personnel can collect the patient’s blood at his/her residence.
Interestingly, Uber also jumped on to the telehealth bandwagon, with the taxi service delivering flu shots and medication on a house call basis to several cities in the U.S., thereby inspiring the title for this section of the article.
Needless to say, most of the above services come with dedicated applications on the Android, iOS or even Web platform.
Additionally, there’s the potential of combining mobile technology with dedicated hardware to make sure that monitoring health stats can be comfortable carried out at the consumer’s home. Devices such as the AliveCor Mobile ECG and India’s HealthYU connect physically to the user’s mobile device to collect the data regarding the vital parameters of the patient.
This data can be sent directly to an aggregator/analyser service of the vendor, and can further be sent to a practitioner for consultation. Either way, the onus is on bringing in technological involvement to bridge the gaps between a doctor and a patient, and at the same time make the experience more comfortable for the patient.
In fact, the relevance of the on demand sector in mHealth is actually confirmed when one considers the funding statistics in this niche. Rock Health has interesting numbers in this regard, which shows the rise in the amount of venture funding.
From $72 million in 2013, to $289 million in 2014 and $237 in the first three quarters of 2015, the numbers quite frankly speak for themselves. And I predict a steeper rise in 2016.
Why is it so? Well for starters, let’s take a look at the number of people using smartphones. Here’s a graph indicating the trendline of the number of smartphone users worldwide. It is estimated that the number of smartphone users worldwide will land to 2.16 billion in 2016.
Next, let’s consider the telehealth figures themselves. From my earlier article on mHealth, here’s an interesting statistic: 52% of healthcare organisations in the U.S. considered telemedicine development to be ‘Very Important’.
And finally, here’s the projected compound annual growth rate for the global digital health market, by segment. Telehealth is right at the top, with a 46% estimated growth from 2013 to 2020.
Adoption rates of telehealth services would in turn be fuelled by the evolution of mobile technologies – namely in sectors such as internet access, ease of developing applications for various platforms, a seamless experience from the app to the web and back again, and finally the growth of cloud servers and data silos with the increase in security protocols.
All in all, I expect telehealth services to flourish this year. With mobile technologies improving rapidly, and emerging startups carving a niche for themselves, on demand telehealth services are going to be big this year.
I hope to see a technological makeover in the healthcare sector this year. Digitisation of data has been a part of the equation for quite some time now, but loopholes still remain. With mobile technology coming to the fore, the healthcare system might just see a disruption and a re-evolution in 2016.
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