Although the 2011 mHealth Summit presented dozens of panels on a spectrum of topics, the running theme that extended through nearly all of them was the ability for the government and infrastructure to catch up with the pace of mobile technology.
In 3 years, the mHealth Summit, held in Washington D.C., has grown to be one of the largest gathering of healthcare and technology experts from around the world. Healthcare stands to be one of the areas with the most to gain from mobile but standards and regulations also make it one of the most challenging.
Mobile represents one of “the greatest technical breakthrough of our time to address the greatest problem of our time,” said US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in reference to the healthcare crisis during her keynote speech at the conference, but there’s work to be done before mobile can begin returning on all it promises.
Here are five of the most common topics that wove their way through the 2011 conference.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Proposed changes to the Medicare could greatly reduce the number of home visits patients receive, and the Obama administration has suspended the Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act in order to keep baby boomers from burdening the system. In the near future patients will get less fact time with doctors, and providers will rely more heavily on remote patient monitoring in order to keep up with patients. One of the biggest opportunities in this area came from the panel on short range wireless, which looked at embedding NFC or Bluetooth into everything from bandages to respirators. This technology leverages the smartphone as a bridge between medical equipment and doctors, but interference between radio frequencies within a hospital environment are one of the regulatory concerns that still exist for short range wireless technologies.
Incentivizing mHealth for Providers
While the technology displayed at the mHealth Summit was indeed impressive, impressive isn’t enough to get providers on board. A system must be worked out to effectively reimburse providers for using these technologies, otherwise they become more of a threat than a benefit. One of the biggest ways this is being addressed, said Stephen Ondra of the health affairs wing of the Department of Veterans Affairs, is that accountable care organizations will receive incentives for reducing costs and that by 2015 the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare will use a value-based payment model to pay physicians based on the quality of care they provide, rather than just the cost.
Government Approval and Standardization of mHealth
Reimbursement isn’t the only area where the private sector is reliant on the government for progress. For mHealth initiatives to succeed there must be proven testing and certification process for devices, and government agencies are only catching up to the progress of mobile technology. This year the FDA reached out to developers to better understand how they can regulate mobile products, and received one of the largest responses ever.
Privacy of Medical Information
Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has fairly clear governance over how medical information can be stored on devices and servers, there are still many question of privacy when it comes to the nascent space of mobile in medicine. According to Patricia Wise, vice president of health information systems for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, fewer than 30% of facilities have mobile device use policies and roughly 75% of mobile health users look up personal health information. Medical institutions may have been slow to adopt mobile, but physicians have not, and device management and policies must catch up to how mobile is being used.