The Quiet Revolution

I spent some time last week at the mHealth Summit in Washington DC and walked away with an incredibly favorable impression.  Unbeknownst to most consumers and even some industry experts, a quiet revolution is occurring in the world of mobile technologies in health. 

Last month I spoke of the value of telehealth in my blog post.  Telemedicine has an incredible opportunity to improve health outcomes and change the way health is delivered to the patient.  The use of the cell phones for health, in particular, is proliferating and producing break-throughs at an unbelievable pace.   

Eric Topol, MD, a keynote speaker at the conference, noted several examples of where cell phones are changing the way medicine is practiced today.  Specifically, he noted one mobile application (Zeo) that measures how you sleep at night and the amount of REM you are actually getting.  Another mobile application (AliveCor) can use an iPhone to diagnosis a heart attack.  Even for him as a doctor, he stated that he hasn’t used a stethoscope in the past two years and instead relies on his phone as an ultrasound machine (GE’s Vscan) to look at his patients’ hearts. 

The nonprofit West Wireless Health Institute, of which Dr. Topol is Vice Chair, reports that cell phones are not only revolutionizing health delivery but also decreasing costs.  For example, the Institute cites research that shows an annual cost savings through the use of remote monitoring for congestive heart failure of $10.1 billion, diabetes of $6.1 billion, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease of $4.9 billion.  They argue that we are only seeing the beginning of how telehealth can bend the cost curve for our broken healthcare system. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the United States is not the only place that cell phones are being used to improve health; they’re also catching fire in the developing world.  The United Nations has reported that by 2012 about 50 percent of the world will have access to a cell phone.  This has allowed countries like Kenya to leapfrog technologies and limit costly investments in infrastructure (e.g. not having to build LAN towers) to improve communications of their populations.  Some of the “mHealth” leaders in the developing world that have capitalized on this trend to improve health include:

  • Medic Mobile, who uses text messages between hospitals and staff in places like Kilifi, Kenya to track mothers and their children and improves the utilization of scarce hospital resources;
  • D-Tree, who developed mobile applications that promote the use of proven medical protocols in the delivery of care for children; and
  • Dimagi, who educates woman on issues like safer pregnancy through videos, surveys, and pictures on a mobile phone. 

Stay tuned as the world of cell phones in health continues to rapidly evolve in both the developed and developing markets.  Much more is coming that will make this quiet revolution into a wide-known fact.

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