Of late, the three hottest topics of discussion in healthcare have been ‘mhealth,’ ‘Telehealth,’ and ‘Connected Health.’
What are these terms? And what impact do they have on contemporary as well as future healthcare? These are just some of the questions doing the rounds at almost every conference, forum, and discussion.
To explain any of them, we must take a short look at the concept of eHealth first. eHealth initially emerged as a concept in healthcare practice towards the end of the 1990s. While some people limit the definition of the term to “healthcare-practice using the Internet”, others have gone a bit broader across the field, and included healthcare informatics in the term’s ambit. The actual definition and scope of the term varies; but the general consensus is that it refers to the practice of healthcare with the support of electronic processes and communication.
This makes it an all-encompassing term that includes electronic health records, e-prescriptions, healthcare informatics, healthcare knowledge management, and healthcare information systems. As such, it becomes the larger concept that encompasses mHealth and Telehealth.
mHealth refers to the use of mobile computing devices such as smartphones, PDAs, tablets, etc., in accessing as well as disseminating healthcare-related information and healthcare delivery. The 2010 mHealth Summit of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) defined mHealth as the “delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices.”
The rapid development of mobile technology, along with greater access to this technology have led to the largescale development and acceptance of mHealth. With the increasing prevalence of mobile devices has also come the benefits of leveraging this technology – lower costs and increased healthcare access. This is especially true in developing countries, where higher population growth, coupled with smaller healthcare workforces are the norm.
mHealth has redefined the methods that can be used to acquire, store, share, and process data as well as information. As such, it has revolutionized healthcare.
In a narrow sense, Telehealth is the “two-way exchange of information between patient and physician”. But then, developments in technology have enabled healthcare practitioners to reach out to a much larger segment.
Telehealth works by monitoring the vital signs of a person with the help of a telephone line or broadband. These vitals are then transferred to a healthcare professional or to a monitoring centre. In a broader sense, Telehealth could also include video-based interactions, allowing physician and patient to interact in real time, irrespective of geographic location and separation.
If you were impressed by the above two developments, prepared to be surprised. For, neither mHealth nor Telehealth is going to be the focus in 2014! The buzzword for the new year, as well as the years to come, will be the much broader concept of ‘Connected Health’.
So, what exactly is Connected Health? Simply speaking, it is a healthcare delivery model that uses technology to provide healthcare remotely.
With the multiplication of devices that can be used for sharing and communicating health information, it is easier as well as more economical to collect information from a variety of sources. This information can be then safely stored and processed in a central location, to be disseminated to a wider target audience. This has improved the overall reach and efficacy of healthcare, while reducing costs.
According to one survey, over 300,000 patients all over the world with heart conditions, diabetes, hypertension, or mental problems were remotely monitored in 2012. Remote monitoring allowed patients to use devices to collect and send medical data from their home to the clinic for physicians to monitor and track. This has meant easier and earlier intervention, added to cost savings in terms of lesser hospital readmissions, transport, travel, and so on.
Another aspect to the ‘connectedness’ is social networking. With the proliferation and profusion of social networking sites, it is easier for patients to connect with physicians virtually, and share information. Blogs and forums are making it easier for patients to seek expert opinion, bypassing expensive hospital trips as well as interminable delays in the waiting room.
The advent of wearable computers like the Google Glass and the smart watch are allowing people to connect even more easily and intuitively. Moreover, with ‘connectedness’ being the norm in society along with the ‘Internet of Things’ now turning into a reality, terms such as eHealth and mHealth will have to be sidelined. Healthcare is inexorably moving towards a more ‘connected’ state too, and the focus in the years to come will be more on the holistic ‘connectedness’ of it, rather than on any component thereof.
Learn more about George Vijay, our Healthcare Informatics Evangelist.
Image Credit: HealthGauge on Flickr