Is telemedicine mobile health?

As the use and proliferation of the smartphone continues to grow, its utilization and role in various medical and health offerings continues to expand as well.

At the American Telemedicine Association annual meeting in San Jose last week, the wide array of mobile health modules on display was staggering. From community care connectivity products to biometric and vital sign tracking devices, the number of mobile health products available on the market is impressive.

One panel discussion held at the conference about smartphones and mobile health noted that the burgeoning field is expanding rapidly and physician and patient adoption is higher than ever. Mobile technology is being deployed at a rate where, in just a few short years, everyone will have access to medical care at the touch of a button. As Arthur Lane, director of mobile health for Verizon, noted, "I think you will have a MinuteClinic in your pocket in the future.”

As a contrarian by nature and a practicing, practical physician, I believe that this statement vastly underrates the capabilities of this mobile health explosion.  While simple, acute care diagnostics are a part of this picture, mobile health has the potential to incorporate so much more.  Home health, wellness screening, training and weight loss coaching, chronic disease monitoring and management are just some of the capabilities of a small hand-held device that can both communicate and store a virtually unlimited amount of data in the cloud.

But just collecting and delivering the data is not enough – there must be an analytical component that makes the data meaningful for end-users, an important function that is often overlooked by system developers. The stark disconnect between the app and device developers and end-users, such as patients and physicians, has created a lack of clinical efficacy and methodology for making information actionable, rendering the data to mere clutter. By closing the gap between system developers and end-users, mobile technology will come closer to fulfilling its potential.

The good news is that unlike EMR and EHR adoption, physician enthusiasm is high for the use and utilization of mobile health technology which will greatly aid this disconnect.

Next month I will focus on what some physicians and patients are doing within this new mobile health world.

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