The Promise of mHealth

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media , September 13, 2012
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"You really have a multitude of industries intersecting, so [Tecco] was able really to bring all these different groups around the table," Matly says. "You have payers and the venture community and technology companies and providers all coming around looking at these new technologies and health tech companies.

"We sift through this large list of startups and we pick a handful of them where we think there's an opportunity for Mayo to add value, so we basically match these companies with clinical champions within the practice that can work with these technological entrepreneurs to build better products."

Both Partners and Mayo are also wrestling with how mHealth apps will be financially supported in the post-fee-for-service world now unfolding.

A part of the solution may be to leverage mHealth to reduce the number of doctor visits and hospital admissions. Matly points to technology from CellScope, a San Francisco–based startup that provides a small iPhone attachment that turns the phone's camera into an otoscope. Sixty percent of pediatric visits are due to ear pain, but CellScope's technology would allow parents to snap what Matly calls "beautiful" in-home pictures of their kids' eardrums, then send them to doctors for diagnosis.

"A payer would be very interested, because if I can reimburse you $40 instead of going in for a $200 visit, it's probably better for me and better for the patient," Matly says.

Providers see mHealth as a way to keep out of the hospital patients upon whom they are losing money, such as Medicare patients, says Christopher Wasden, global healthcare innovation leader at PwC, a leading advisor to public and private organizations across the health industries.

According to a study published in March  by the Geisinger Center for Health Research (part of the Danville, Pa.–based, $2.7 billion integrated health system), the Geisinger Monitoring Program interactive voice response protocol reduced 30-day hospital readmission rates by 44%. Wasden says this lightweight approach succeeds where more tech-intensive telemonitoring solutions have proven inconclusive.

Still, there is resistance to mHealth. Wasden mentions a large healthcare system that told him that such change would require  a substantial change management program that includes educating physicians and nurses on how to deliver this type of care, and then changing their work flow so they can do it.

Beyond these leadership challenges, many providers are not prepared to accept the massive amount of new data generated spontaneously by sensors, then uploaded from apps on mobile devices to their data centers, Wasden says. "Doctors are already overwhelmed by the data they have. They don't want more data. And they especially don't want more data generated by a patient where they don't even trust the data that the patients generate. So while there's a lot of promise associated with the data, we don't actually have the tools and the capabilities and the applications necessary to really know what to do with the data to actually have it be of any value or meaningful use within the practice."

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