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What mHealth really means in a modern clinical setting

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Mobile health, or mHealth, is the practice of public health and medicine through mobile devices. Co-founder & CEO of ONCOassist Eoin O’Carroll speaks to Health Tech World about the future of mHealth and its role amongst clinicians…

Technology in the healthcare industry has advanced at a rapid rate since scientist, scholar and pioneer Robert Istepanian first introduced the concept of mHealth (mobile health) almost two decades ago. 

The term comes under the more general category of digital health and refers to the use of mobile devices in the practice of medicine and public health.

Since its inception, it has revolutionised the manner in which oncologists and other healthcare professionals access patient information. 

Indeed, the digital health market in the UK is expected to accelerate at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 15.5 per cent between 2022 and 2027.

“Lack of quality” before mHealth 

Before mHealth, clinicians had no simple method of accessing the information and tools they needed to make a decision that was both rapid and suitably informed. Valuable time was lost causing an increase in stress levels for both patient and the healthcare professional. 

I feel that the former suffered from a lack of quality care as a result. Vital tasks that would have taken a lot longer to complete can now take a clinician just a few seconds at the primary point of care.

This is of particular importance to those working in oncology where the time between initial cancer diagnosis and subsequent methods of treatment is absolutely essential.

A practical example of the use of mHealth technology is when a clinician needs to recalculate a medicinal dose based on a patient’s fluctuating weight which is a common issue among cancer patients.

Mobile apps in healthcare

Mobile apps can also be used to explain to a patient why a particular medical decision was made.

As time is freed up a clinician can expand on a decision – such as why chemotherapy is continuing even though a cancerous tumour has already been successfully removed.

Unless the patient happens to be a healthcare specialist, I truly believe that a clinician imparting as much knowledge and information as possible to a patient has to be a good thing. A high level of stress is associated with a positive cancer diagnosis.

This can be eased somewhat if a patient is afforded the time, dignity and respect they deserve at critical points in their illness battle.

mHealth in oncology

A further use of mHealth is that it can provide information on particular drugs. Oncology clinicians can search for medicines which are unique to oncology by either trade name or active ingredient. Rapid access to lists within each specific drug section can help make the process easier and more efficient for the clinician so that patient care becomes the chief focus.

A drug interaction checker can allow equally quick access to search combinations of drug interactions to ascertain whether they are wholly safe to use.

Very few oncologists can claim to have an abundance of time on their hands.  It’s a pressurised post where care and attention to detail are of the utmost importance.

A major advantage of mHealth is that time can literally be reclaimed. Gone are the days of sifting through research papers looking for relevant information for a patient. When such labour- intensive actions are taken out of the equation an oncologist can fully focus on what’s most important in a healthcare setting – patient welfare.

Smartphones have enabled mHealth success

I believe the successful adoption of mHealth apps by those working in the UK healthcare system has been strongly influenced by the prevalence of mobile devices including tablets and smartphones.

These have enjoyed a particular boom in the last ten years. In the UK, the smartphone penetration rate has been shown to increase every year over the last decade to 93 per cent in 2022.

As recently as 2016, this figure was less than half of the UK population aged 55 or over but has grown massively to 82 percent among this age group in 2022.

Such is the importance assigned to digital health that on 29 June this year the UK Government published a policy paper which proposed £2 billion in funding to support electronic patient records across all NHS trusts. 

People at the heart of care, the adult reform white paper also revealed an investment of at least £150 million to support digital transformation over the next three years.

This is to ensure that all care providers can build their cyber resilience, access high-speed connections and increase workforce digital skills and confidence.

The paper further outlined that all ICSs (Integrated Care Systems) and their NHS trusts are aiming to have core digital capabilities to include electronic health records in place by March 2025.

The IT department of a healthcare setting has perhaps been somewhat overlooked in the past but its role has become more and more important in recent years.

It has also become more complicated over time. An essential part of its role is to ensure that app systems operate seamlessly across multiple devices while ensuring security intrusions are successfully blocked before any real damage is caused.

NHS cyber attack highlights importance of “extreme vigilance”

A ransomware attack on the morning of 4 August this year resulted in widespread outages across the NHS. Patient data appeared to be the target with services such as emergency prescriptions, ambulance dispatch and patient referrals being affected.

Similar attacks affected the Irish healthcare system in 2021 and the government of Costa Rica earlier this year.

All of these breaches highlight the importance of extreme vigilance across IT departments in the healthcare sector.

The growth of the mHealth market shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Last year, the market size of mHealth globally was USD 50.7 billion.

This is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11 per cent from 2022 to 2030. As long as people continue to get cancer mHealth will continue to be a vital tool for oncologists who realise its value and importance to excellence in patient care.

Eoin O’Carroll, 2022


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