mHealth: how mobile choices can successfully reach users
mHealth: how mobile choices can successfully reach users
Interview with Julia Hagen, Head of the Health & Pharma Division, Bitkom e.V.
mHealth has been slated to revolutionize the healthcare market for the past few years. Yet things are not quite as easy for apps and wearables as it may seem. A recently conducted study reveals that there are still many obstacles to overcome before manufacturers and health professionals can connect with patients and their mobile devices.
In this interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com, Julia Hagen talks about the market for mHealth choices, explains how they could become a typical part of the healthcare system and describes how this could change things between physicians and patients.
Ms. Hagen, recently Deloitte and Bitkom introduced a joint study titled "Mobile Health – How Customized Services Lead to Success". Could you briefly summarize the goals of this study?
Julia Hagen: The study includes a survey of 2,000 German consumers. Its goal was to better understand the market for mobile health applications and their trends as well as identify the potential and obstacles of this market.
What prevents today’s mHealth choices from widespread adoption?
Hagen: Concerns primarily focus on matters of data protection and how data is being processed. Today mHealth is to some extent considered a threat to personal and health-related data, even in political debates. Meanwhile, our survey has shown that users do not necessarily see it the same way. According to our survey, the fact that mobile apps do not fully meet user needs yet is a far greater obstacle to the widespread adoption of mHealth. The market needs options that are more specific and customized to the users.
What do typical mHealth choices look like?
Hagen: Many mHealth choices today still tend to be geared towards lifestyle and wellness. The classic example of this is a wearable device like a smartwatch or a smart shirt for instance, which record movement data on the smartphone via an app. This data is processed and analyzed. Based on this, the app might tell the user to increase his activity the next day.
Meanwhile, smartphones, in particular, could make steps towards facilitating medical applications. They could especially support the treatment of people with chronic diseases because they can be discretely integrated into everyday life. Users can use them to easily record data about their disease. And the same applies to apps that can run inconspicuously on the smartphone.
Typical mHealth choices are for example smart watches, smart clothing, sensors and others wearables. Together with apps, they collect, store and manage health data.
Do you see any room and a need for these types of choices in the healthcare system?
Hagen: I think there is definitely a need and that the selection is able to satisfy a real need of patients or affected persons. Having said that, even though these types of choices provide an opportunity for prevention, they do not constitute an actual medical treatment or care. This makes it difficult to receive remuneration for their use, especially when it comes to the German healthcare system. What’s more, our healthcare system, which is based on the principles of solidarity inspires little willingness to pay out of pocket for an optional service, even if it provides an added benefit in managing one’s own chronic condition.
Our study allows us to conclude that it will likely not be the individual stakeholders, startup companies and the large technology or pharmaceutical companies that win out when it comes to the development and distribution of mobile applications but rather cooperations. Some health insurance companies include certain preventive options in their benefits package to offer their patients, for instance diabetics. However, there is still a lot of development work needed by the various stakeholders of the system to get more of these types of solutions underway.
Another alternative stems from B2B dealings, where companies purchase corporate health management solutions and pass them on to their own staff members. This is another way of reimbursing these types of benefits. That being said, this is still not ideal because it clearly limits who can benefit from it. A comprehensive option of extending these types of preventive choices would be preferable.
Issues about data protection and data security still irritate users and make them hesitate in front of mHealth choices. But data are usually very well protected with products that are actually treated like medical products.
You already briefly talked about this subject earlier: How do users feel about data protection?
Hagen: There continues to be a resistance to this subject. This is also why the data protection debate keeps heating up. Meanwhile, the already existing data protection regulations are very extensive, especially as it pertains to medical applications and certified medical devices.
And there are also indications that users discard certain unsubstantiated worries if they recognize an added benefit. Needless to say, the willingness to share data also depends on who people are asked to share their data with. On that score, physicians are considered trustworthy because they are required to uphold patient confidentiality and save all diagnostic findings and diagnoses anyway. Meanwhile, there is a decreased willingness to share data with other stakeholders such as health insurance companies, device manufacturers or software developers for example. Cooperations are also in a position to solve this issue. Data anonymization or at least pseudonymization of data provide another alternative.
To what extent can mHealth choices change the physician-patient relationship?
Hagen: In a survey that we recently conducted together with the Hartmann-Bund and its members, 53 percent of the polled physicians indicated that they generally have a positive view of health apps, while 25 percent of doctors have already been asked about these types of apps by their patients.
Physicians recognize opportunities when it comes to health apps because they know that patient data is the key to understanding the patient’s situation and making a diagnosis. Doctors generally use most of their time to obtain necessary information from and about the patient. It would be a great help if they could receive reliable and sensibly processed information. However, physicians are subsequently in a position where they are unable to optimally assess whether these apps gather reliable information.
It is also difficult for many physicians to integrate this information into daily practice operations. They should not have to log on to various online portals by different development companies to access respective information. There is still a lack of applicable models that make this information available to physicians. I believe physicians might also have to increasingly assume the role of a coach who helps patients manage the collected data. After all, this inevitably also makes patients more capable of managing their own medical condition.