Mobile Health: Tools, Benefits, and Applications

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A woman checks her glucose level with a phone app and remote sensor.Mobile health is revolutionizing healthcare, providing patients with access to critical services, personal data tracking and doctors, regardless of their location. As the number of health applications for smartphones, wearables, tablets and other digital technologies grows, more people will use them to take control of their own healthcare.

More than 97,000 health and fitness applications are currently available for mobile and tablet devices, according to HealthWorks Collective. EMarketer reports that more than 87% of U.S. smartphone owners have used health and fitness apps this year—a 27% increase from 2019. Zion Market Research expects the mobile health apps market to exceed $111 billion by 2025, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 38% from 2019.

It’s important for students interested in health information management to understand mobile health’s role in shaping current healthcare careers and its potential role in impacting future changes to the industry.

What Is Mobile Health, and Why Is It Important?

Mobile health takes many forms. The World Health Organization has not yet established a singular definition of mobile health or set a standard for its role in healthcare. However, WHO’s Global Observatory for eHealth defines it as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as [cell] phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.” Mobile health devices and apps can be used to track a range of data from fitness levels and heart rates to medication dosages and sleep cycles.

Mobile health is important because it helps patients take control of monitoring their own health, which is crucial amid a growing shortage of healthcare workers. Mercer’s “U.S. Healthcare External Labor Market Analysis” found that the U.S. will need to hire 2.3 million new healthcare workers by 2025 to properly care for its aging population of baby boomers. Rural areas in particular are facing a critical shortage of physicians and educational programs for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, people in rural communities are more likely than those in other communities to be elderly, have low incomes and suffer from chronic illnesses. As a result, they may have difficulty traveling to doctors’ offices or paying for their treatments.

Mobile health also helps healthcare providers conduct virtual visits and gather data from patients in developing countries, where many may not have access to necessary care services. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 6 million people in developing countries die each year due to lack of quality healthcare solutions. In some countries, only 35% of people receive the correct diagnoses for their symptoms, contributing to increased fatalities and spread of diseases. Humanitarian organizations have begun helping vulnerable populations use mobile health solutions such as texting and smartphone cameras to receive diagnoses and lifesaving healthcare education.

What Are Mobile Health Solutions?

Physicians and patients can use a range of mobile health solutions to improve their quality of care and access to critical wellness resources. Common mobile health solutions include:

Online or Remote Consultations

Instead of having to schedule in-person appointments and waste time and money commuting to a doctor’s office, patients can conduct virtual visits. They might use video conferencing software platforms, digital tools provided by their doctor’s office or hospital or third-party mobile apps.

Electronic Health Records

Electronic health records (EHRs) can help patients and healthcare providers more easily access, transfer and update information. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, EHRs can be instrumental in determining the best healthcare treatments for patients, identifying possible risks among similar groups and recommending preventive measures for certain populations.

Mobile Data Tracking

Patients can use health and fitness apps to track their personal health data, such as their insulin levels and body temperature. Physicians can also access this data in real time to quickly make diagnoses, identify life-threatening changes in vital statistics and analyze sudden symptoms.

Internet-connected medical devices can also collect data and transmit it to other devices, healthcare providers and EHRs. Examples of these devices include insulin pumps, heart monitors and ingestible sensors. If these devices use artificial intelligence or machine learning technologies, they may even be able to provide diagnoses and contact relevant specialists on their own.

Wearable Devices

Wearable medical devices, such as smart watches, are growing in popularity. According to Global Market Insights, the market for these products is expected to reach $87 billion by 2025, up from $8 billion in 2018. The iTBra, for example, can detect cancer in breast tissue, and the Apple Watch can track atrial fibrillation based on heartbeat data.

The Benefits of Mobile Health Technology

Mobile health solutions can yield positive outcomes for both patients and healthcare professionals. Key benefits of mobile health technology include:

  • Allowing patients and their physicians to maintain consistent contact through virtual consultations, rather than relying on in-person appointments
  • Providing care for elderly patients who need constant support due to chronic conditions and patients who cannot easily leave their homes
  • Helping patients access essential health information quickly, which can minimize extra costs such as for unnecessary hospital visits
  • Tracking symptoms in real-time for quick diagnoses and expert feedback
  • Personalizing health data and treatment programs for each patient
  • Reducing human error through electronic record-keeping and real-time data collection
  • Allowing patients to track and monitor their own medical conditions and be proactive about potential treatments
  • Reducing the spread of disease and infection by conducting virtual appointments
  • Decreasing hospital costs by cutting down on paper usage and waste
  • Providing reminders to patients to take their medicine, check their vitals or record their symptoms that don’t require the intervention of their physician or caretaker

How Do Mobile Health Apps Help Patients?

Mobile health apps put vital healthcare solutions, expert insights and educational resources right into patients’ hands. These apps can help people with a range of health and wellness tasks, such as tracking cancer treatment programs, maintaining exercise regimens, improving mental health practices and supporting breastfeeding routines. They can also integrate with EHRs to ensure patient data is comprehensive and up to date.

According to 2019 data from Gallup, 34% of Americans have used a wearable fitness tracker and 32% have tracked their health data on a mobile app. Mobile health apps are most popular among young demographics; adults under 55 are twice as likely as their older counterparts to use these apps. Most importantly, they are effective: More than 80% of mobile health app users say they are helpful.

According to Business Insider, some of the most common types of mobile health apps include:

  • Diabetes apps, such as for monitoring blood sugar levels
  • Pregnancy apps, such as for tracking a baby’s growth
  • Weight loss apps, such as for recording progress and fitness gains
  • Chronic illness apps, such as for documenting symptoms over time

More mobile health apps will likely continue to emerge as technologies evolve and major companies such as Apple and Google invest in building their own healthcare programs and devices.

What Mobile Health Resources Are Available?

Many mobile health resources are available for people who want to track their own wellness data and become more informed about their health.

AliveCor

The AliveCor mobile health app gives people the ability to take medical-grade electrocardiograms (EKGs) from their mobile devices with simple sensors. This tool can be used to quickly, remotely and affordably detect health issues such as atrial fibrillation and tachycardia. App users can also sign up to receive regular cardiologist reviews of their EKGs and monthly heart health reports.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross mobile app provides a range of educational resources such as first-aid information, veterinary advice and alerts for natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. The app also includes specialized services such as Hero Care, which is used by military members and their families to access emergency preparedness tools.

Apple Health

The Apple Health app connects with users’ iPhone and Apple Watch to track their fitness, report environmental stressors, monitor their heart rate and report their health trends over time.

Fitbit

The Fitbit app and wearable devices help people set fitness and wellness goals, and track their progress toward reaching milestones. Fitbit also includes a sleep tracker to monitor how much time people spend in different sleep stages and suggest how they can improve their sleep for better rest and recovery.

Glucose Buddy

Glucose Buddy is a diabetes management platform for tracking blood sugar, insulin, weight, physical activity and food intake. People can also join a community of fellow app users for support, advice and insights into managing their diabetes.

IExaminer

Welch Allyn’s iExaminer app allows physicians to take pictures of patients’ eyes and retinal nerves right from their smartphones. It connects the mobile camera to the PanOptic ophthalmoscope and captures high-resolution imagery to be stored and shared as needed. These pictures can then be used by physicians to collaborate with peers and educate patients about their optic health.

Medisafe

Medisafe helps patients easily fill their prescriptions, track their medicine dosages and apply for refills. The company partners with leading pharmaceutical brands and healthcare providers to deliver personalized solutions and help patients stay on top of their treatment plans.

MIM Software

MIM Software provides physicians and healthcare facilities with mobile imaging for radiation oncology, neuroscience imaging, cardiac imaging and radiology. With remote access to these resources, healthcare providers can more easily share imagery with patients and colleagues, provide feedback and collaborate on diagnoses and treatment plans.

Strava

Strava is a mobile fitness app for runners and cyclists. People can use the app to track their activity, analyze their performance stats and find trails that are popular among a built-in network of athletes. Strava also syncs to devices such as GPS tools and heart rate monitors to provide a more comprehensive view of users’ progress.

Tensio

Tensio helps people manage their high blood pressure with personalized coaching, access to medical records and tracking data for factors such as weight and sodium intake. Tensio also sends alerts and informative messages to help people stay on target with their health goals.

With plenty of mobile health resources available, it’s important for individuals to research their options and consult with their healthcare providers to find the best solutions for their health and wellness needs.

Pursue a Health Information Management Career

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Information Management program is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be leaders and innovators in the healthcare industry. The cutting-edge curriculum prepares students to apply the latest practices and methodologies to real-world experiences, including developing health information management strategies and learning how health data is captured, protected, and used.

Learn more about how the online Master of Science in Health Information Management program can help you pursue a career in health information management and advance in this ever-growing industry.

Recommended Readings

How to Become an EHR Consultant and Pursue a Career in Health Information Management
What Is Health Information Management? Comparing HIM vs. Health Informatics
What Is Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management?

Sources:

AliveCor
American Red Cross, Mobile Apps
Apple Health
Business Insider, “How mHealth Apps Are Providing Solutions to the Healthcare Market’s Problems”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and Patient Work Information
Elite Healthcare, “The Use of Mobile Devices in Healthcare”
EMarketer, “The Number of Health and Fitness App Users Increased 27% From Last Year”
EVisit, “MHealth 101: A Doctor’s Guide to Mobile Health”
Fitbit
Gallup, “One in Five U.S. Adults Use Health Apps, Wearable Trackers”
Global Market Insights, MHealth Market
Global Market Insights, Wearable Medical Devices Market
GlobeNewswire, “Global mHealth Apps Market Will Reach USD 111.1 Billion by 2025: Zion Market Research”
GlobeNewswire, “Mobile Health (mHealth) Market to Reach USD 311.98 Billion by 2027 | Reports and Data”
Glucose Buddy
HealthWorks Collective, “Mobile Medical Apps: A Game-Changing Healthcare Innovation”
Itransition, “Mobile Healthcare in 2020: The Roadmap for Change”
Marketing Charts, 1 in 5 Americans Track Their Health Statistics Using an App
Medical News Today, “MHealth: What Is It, and How Can It Help Us?”
Medisafe
Mercer, Healthcare Workforce Analysis
MHealth Intelligence, “MHealth Wearables Market to Surge Over Next 4 Years”
MIM Software
Mobius MD, “11 Surprising Mobile Health Statistics”
OrthoLive, “MHealth: Healthcare Mobile App Trends in 2019”
Rural Health Information Hub, Rural Healthcare Workforce
Society for the Study of Addiction, “What Is . . . Mobile Health?” 
Strava
Tensio
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Digital Health
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Digital Health Innovation Action Plan”
Welch Allyn, iExaminer
World Economic Forum, “Every Year Nearly 6 Million People Die in Developing Countries from Low-Quality Healthcare—This Is How We Help Them”