What is mHealth Technology?


Published: 25 March 2015

Smart devices and wearable technologies are becoming increasingly popular throughout society. It’s no surprise that the number of individuals using these devices to monitor and manage their health is now in the hundreds of millions. This in turn has given rise to a new model of health delivery – mobile health or mHealth.

What is mHealth?

mHealth is defined by the WHO as the “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistances and other wireless devices”. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that roughly 500 million people globally are already using personal healthcare ‘apps’ (mobile software applications). This number is predicted to grow rapidly to over 1 billion by 2018.

mHealth in Action

A ingestible sensor from Proteus digital health.

Wearable and ingestible sensors that work together to gather information about medication-taking, activity and rest patterns. Image: Proteus digital health.

mHealth is already being used to monitor a variety of conditions including heart disease, diabetes, autism, insomnia and asthma. Researchers are also beginning to investigate the potential of mHealth. A UK-based study recently looked into the effectiveness of mobile technology interventions in people with HIV. The study found that even a simple text message increased the person’s adherence to ART medication. The same process was also found to be beneficial in assisting people to stop smoking.

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In Australia, the ACT government has led the charge by developing a website advocating mHealth applications for diabetes management.

Similarly, an mHealth campaign conducted by the American Medical Group Foundation titled “measure up/pressure down” has already helped improve hypertension detection and control in 414,167 people. As part of the campaign, each patient uses a smartphone-connected automatic blood pressure (BP) device to record their BP reading and store it on their smart device. This reading is then automatically sent to the patient’s medical team who review and monitor the patient’s blood pressure.

A woman using her smart watch to record her BP reading on her smartphone.

A woman using her smart watch to record her BP reading on her smartphone.

This enables to them to titrate medications, educate the patient about lifestyle changes and facilitate appointments as needed without the patient having to see a health professional face-to-face for monitoring. This type of self-monitoring and automatic reviewing can also be done with other devices such as ECG monitors and blood glucose monitors.

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In Washington, researchers are currently developing an application that monitors asthma. The app uses the patient’s smartphone’s microphone as a spirometer. And if this isn’t impressive enough, a wireless shoe insole that tracks and monitors foot pressure patterns is being developed in Canada. It alerts the diabetic patient when they are putting too much pressure on their heel, an action which can ultimately lead to foot ulcers.

The possibilities of using mHealth applications to assist health professionals in the provision of care are also quite extensive. Will our patients’ phones house their past medical records? Will their watches autonomously call them a flying defibrillator minutes before they have a heart attack? Will their vital signs be transferred from their wrist to the ambulance on route?

Advantages of mHealth

The are many advantages of using mHealth, including its versatility across all areas of healthcare and its potential to improve the health monitoring of at-risk patients. It could allow for earlier interventions and significantly decrease admissions to hospital, along with visits to GPs and healthcare practitioners generally. The potential for biometric hardware and real-time health analytics, especially in a lean healthcare environment, are incredible. However, as this is a relatively new aspect of healthcare it should be approached with caution by clinicians and patients – there are still questions to answer and much more research to be carried out.

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