Mobile healthcare in 2018: The roadmap for changes

6 min.

As medical mobile technology gains more sophistication every year, healthcare application development matures from offering mere entertainment to providing practical care delivery support tools. According to Grand View Research’s forecast, the global market size of the mobile health industry is expected to reach $112 billion by 2025, growing at whopping 44.2% CAGR.

Among the foreseeable reasons for such growth, we can name the overall focus on personalized and preventive medicine as well as an increasing adoption of smartphones and smart wearable devices in low- & middle-income countries. However, it’s only 2018, which means that we have enough time for mobile healthcare to upgrade its paradigm and even become a standard practice for all organizations, similar to EHR systems today.

In this article, we will highlight the most promising vectors for mobile healthcare progress in 2018 to speculate on the industry’s future.

Telemedicine and its drawbacks

Telemedicine introduced digital interventions into healthcare, allowing providers and patients to stay in touch. Blooming up in 2018, the telemedicine market volume is anticipated to hit $36.2 billion by 2020.

Perfect for remote and rural areas, telehealth solutions will inevitably spread in urbanized regions, especially with insurance companies and employers hopping on the bandwagon more eagerly than Medicare itself.

Insurers are interested in cutting on costs of hospitalizations, readmissions, and transfers, and telemedicine helps to achieve just that by targeting the high-risk patient groups with multiple chronic diseases and disabilities. Patients get the medical attention they need at the most convenient moment, which helps caregivers handle health status concerns prior to critical situations.

Providers get their benefits in non-penalized reimbursements for helping patients avoid post-discharge complications that lead to readmissions as well as direct reimbursements for offering telemedicine services to the slowly increasing range of Medicare patients. Among them are freshly added individuals with at-home dialysis and stroke survivors in non-rural areas. Still, the reimbursement hurdle persists and it is unlikely to disappear in 2018.

Earlier this year, Kaveh Safavi, MD, senior managing director and head of Global Health Practice Accenture, mentioned at the ATA conference that “we don’t have any effective way of transferring money without physician activities going on. What we really want to do is change the mindset from paying for activity to some form of payment that allows us to reward non-consumption of resources.”

Mobile payments are on the way

In 2018, mobile payments will finally leak into healthcare from retail and entertainment realms and bring in the long-anticipated convenience of transactions. This step supports the unwinding of the consumerism era in healthcare, cutting on bureaucracy in the most stagnating part of care cycle—paying bills.

Patients can now use healthcare mobile apps instead of cash, which is especially handy in emergency situations or at after-hours. We don’t expect that mobile payments will replace more traditional transactions types, but it is better to have just a few more ways to ensure getting medical assistance in sudden cases anyway.

Two paths for IoT breakthroughs

The Internet of Things is gradually taking over the industry, crawling through regulation gaps. However, Allied Market Research predicted the global market of connected medical devices reaching $136.8 billion by 2021. Hopefully, three years from now, IoT will prove the forecast and will get widespread adoption enforced by regulators and payers.

We don’t anticipate any significant IoT disruptions in 2018, the best-case scenario is an increasing scope of FDA-approved devices in two segments—wearable health monitoring and multifaceted hospital tracking. The reason for expanding connectivity in these areas is that they are the major bottlenecks in care delivery today.

On the one hand, we have chronic patients, who are in desperate need for continuous health monitoring due to higher risks of hospitalizations, complications, and readmissions. On the other—the insufficient number of qualified staff in healthcare organizations and consequent overtimes, which can entail ill-timed decision-making and preventable medical errors. With smart tracking systems embedded into chronic care management and inpatient tracking, IoT is able to help providers handle these pain points. Let’s see whether the industry will go with the flow or resist it.

AR as a personal trainer for health professionals

For AR in healthcare, 2018 is definitely a year of medical education and guidance. Similar to the situation with IoT, augmented reality adoption focus is narrowing due to the acute shortage of trained health specialists.

AR covers the range of medical training needs via healthcare mobile apps that can be installed on tablets, smartphones, or headgear, allowing all-level clinicians to:

  • Refresh their knowledge of anatomy
  • Refine catheterization skills
  • Reassure in the differential diagnosis
  • Fill the gaps in experience by dealing with imaginary cases

While 2018 may not be the milestone year that will put AR into all medical education institutions and/or healthcare organizations as an obligatory training tool, we are certainly on the right track.

Blockchain and the promise of a revolution

Of course, blockchain is also on the mobile healthcare roadmap this year. The unpreceded way to keep sensitive information secure from tampering and destruction allows medical software developers to integrate healthcare mobile apps with EHRs while maintaining HIPAA compliance. We anticipate more mHealth ventures embedding blockchain into their solutions in 2018, with some of them revolutionizing the industry.

For example, eHealth First launched a pre-ICO stage of their population health management and medical knowledge management platform based on blockchain and machine learning. The platform will offer two dedicated healthcare mobile apps for patients and health specialists. Its goal is to offer individuals a tool to prevent age-related diseases, manage chronic conditions, get a primary diagnosis based on symptoms, find relevant information on health concerns from authorized sources, and also connect with medical professionals via telemedicine module.

eHealthFirst ICO mobile app 1
eHealthFirst ICO mobile app 2

Screenshots from YouTube

Health specialists, on the other hand, get access to the evidence-based medical knowledge hub with up-to-date clinical standards, trial results, contraindications, and drug interactions, automated diagnosis guidance with suggestions on tests and procedures to confirm a condition as well as a database of anonymized PHI.

We can’t wait to see the platform’s MVP, scheduled for October 2018. Reaching at least a third part of the ambitious goals that the company sets will already allow to create a milestone case for placing industry-wide population health management and evidence-based medicine under the umbrella of front-rank technologies.

From EHR to CHR

A major shift in recording patient data seems to be underway, with such EHR vendors as Athenahealth, Cerner, and eClinicalWorks trying to rechristen their systems again. In 2016, they tried to kill their own systems and rise from the ashes with something “completely new.” In the fall of 2017, the trio made a new attempt by revamping Electronic Health Records into Comprehensive Health Records.

“We’ve been discussing longitudinal health records that include social determinants and other relevant data for at least two years now, and there are more than 100 clients today using Cerner’s population health management platform (including many Epic EHR clients),” Cerner President Zane Burke stated. “We’ve worked with these clients to develop solutions like HealtheIntent that are EHR-agnostic and aggregate data from multiple, disparate sources outside the four walls of the hospital or clinic.”

Taking the accumulated opinion of three major EHR vendors, CHR embodies an extended patient health record enriched with:

  • Social determinants
  • Outpatient care delivery information
  • Telehealth care delivery information
  • Data from disparate sources outside the facility

Practically, introducing a CHR means integrating an EHR with a lot of data from multiple sources that current EHR systems are simply unable to process and store. On top of that, as HIPAA requirements are regularly updated, it will be an increasing challenge to maintain compliance with more and more PHI bits stocking up on top of each other. Well, there is an elegant solution to this riddle, which can benefit the industry as a whole—the cloud.

Going to the cloud, providers won’t need to maintain compliant internal IT infrastructures with servers and storage area networks (SAN). Next, since now all EHR/CHR data is simultaneously updated from one source, healthcare organizations are encouraged to use mobile apps for all kinds of tasks from providing telehealth services to keeping up with the shift schedule. Let’s not forget about the patients, because they can get mHealth apps to become connected with their physicians and caregivers.

Making 2018 great for mobile healthcare

With the richness of trends, technologies, tools, and approaches ready to implement in 2018, we are thrilled to find out how the industry will evolve its mobile side. From IoT to telehealth to mobile payments and full-blown population health management platforms, there are exciting changes underway. And, since we are aware of the drawbacks that can hinder the speed of innovation, we can at least hope for regulators, payers and providers join their forces in overcoming them and paving the way for even better 2019.