Can mobile technology help manage outpatient care and improve quality of life for seniors and chronically ill patients who want to stay in their homes?
There are many convincing reasons why CIOs working in healthcare organizations will want to take some time to investigate these options. With the population in most industrialized countries getting older and living longer than their forebears, the number of people living with chronic disease is growing fast. Most of these individuals would prefer to stay in their homes, with proper care.
Several mobility executives made presentations about how devices and services can be put to use to help this vulnerable population during Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2013, held in Barcelona last month.
For starters, Rick Valencia, general manager of Qualcomm Life, provided statistics on this demographic during his MWC presentation. Qualcomm Life's research estimates that 80 percent of healthcare spending will be on chronic disease in a few years. He noted that by 2030, fully one quarter (25 percent) of the population in the European Union will be aged 65 or older. The majority of this population will have at least one chronic disease.
How mobile devices help you stay home
Mobile devices can be key tools in helping healthcare providers monitor vital signs and avoid expensive tests and hospital stays, as well as efficiently managing emergencies. In fact, Valencia called cellular networks "the most pervasive utility in the world."
Using Qualcomm's 2net™ platform, for example, it is possible to connect a stream of compatible mobile devices to the system, and transmit encrypted healthcare data to the hospital or clinic that is in charge of monitoring the patient. Several alarms can be set to trigger a response when some situations occur, such as a drop in blood pressure or an unusual heart rate.
Patients can be reminded to take their medication and, with the use of machine-to-machine (m2m) technology, doctors can confirm whether medication has been taken at the right times.
Other mobile initiatives include NFC and QR Tags for patients with Alzheimer's disease. One use-case example involves an Alzeheimer's patient wearing a tag who gets lost. In this case, anyone they may encounter who has a mobile phone with NFC or bar code functionality (most smartphones can read QR codes these days) can send a message to the patient's caregivers with a location and number to call. This way, the patient's privacy is protected and they can be located quickly.
Security is one of the advantages of using cellular networks. "Leveraging SIM cards, and identity association technology, Orange is overcoming security challenges for health data mobility," said Benjamin Sarda, director of product marketing at Orange Healthcare. The use of the SIM card-embedded security, strong enough for the most sensitive financial transactions, ensures patient privacy during the transmission of electronic health data. It also can be used as the encryption key to store the information in the cloud. Without the SIM card, it would be impossible to access the information.
I do not doubt the very real benefits that m-health technology can have on people's well being, and in turn, the positive impact this will have on their lives. Using mobile technology in this way can offer new revenue streams for operators, improve quality of life for patients and enable cost savings for healthcare providers.
What I'd like to see first and foremost, though, is for the healthcare IT and telecommunications industries to coordinate efforts, ensuring system compatibility, protecting privacy and educating healthcare providers and patients to make the best use of this promising technology. This way, when a healthcare CIO is asked to implement these tools, there won't be conflicts and compatibility issues between systems that could, ultimately, do more harm than good for patients.