mHealth: Changing the Paradigm of the Doctor/Patient Relationship

I’m in Washington, D.C., at the mHealth Summit, and what I’m hearing is so exciting I had to share. For those who don’t know, mHealth—or mobile health—is the hottest thing happening in health care, with the power to completely transform our healthcare system.

The overriding goal is to untether providers and patients from the requirement that our interactions occur face-to-face and enable us to interact in real time, whenever we want. It goes deeper than that. Wireless technology can even monitor our health without a healthcare provider involved.

Don’t believe me? How about a tiny device for your iPhone that monitors your heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and even movements, then runs the data through a complex algorithm and alerts your doctor or nurse if there’s a problem? This is a real app being demonstrated here.

So why have I unchained myself from my computer and come out into the world for three days? Because I’ve been hired to write a book on mHealth for two physicians and a consultant with a large healthcare organization. It’s one of the most fascinating projects I’ve worked on in a long time, and I’ll be writing more about it here. It’s fascinating because it represents the convergence of three areas of medicine I write about: clinical, policy and technology. I believe that seamlessly integrating those three areas is critical if we are to address some of the challenges facing our healthcare system.

The summit just started, but the first session was on a topic near and dear to my heart: patient/physician engagement; specifically, the role of mobile technology to improve the relationship between the two while reducing costs and improving quality.

This is not a fantasy. It is real and it is happening in some large healthcare systems. But it is not going to be easy to roll out throughout the healthcare system. Although most consumers say they want greater access to their physicians and they want health information through mobile applications like smartphones, tablets and computers, most physicians are—to put it mildly—as scared of this as they are of a Medicare audit.

Why? Because it means giving up power. A survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 42 percent of physicians are worried that mHealth will make their patients too independent, while just a third encourage their patients to use mHealth applications to take a greater role in managing their health. Thirteen percent actively discourage their patients from using mHealth to manage their health.

As Andrew Watson, M.D., of the Center for Connected Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said during the Monday morning session: Doctors—not nurses or other healthcare providers—are incredibly resistant to change.

So consider this a gauntlet laid down. It’s up to us, the end user, to insist, demand, and fight for the right to engage in our healthcare in the same way we engage in music, books, shopping, banking: in the cloud, interactively and with as much control over the experience as the company, organization or individual providing it to us.

Stay tuned for more updates from the mHealth Summit.


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