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Healthcare is going mobile – but where to, exactly?

With the annual mHealth Summit having just wrapped up in Washington, D.C., it seems like a good time to talk about the burgeoning world of mobile technology in medicine. Smartphones are finding their way into more and more hands, and medical records are being digitized and stored in EHR and EMR databases at a significant rate. This leaves us (and a lot of others) with a couple of important questions: Will these things be connected, and who will be driving this digital progress, patients or doctors?

One article, via the HealthCare IT News, held an interesting debate outlining the reasons for both opinions. Within the piece, Krishnan Ganapathy, of the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation inIndia, makes a case for the physicians driving the digital progress, citing the fact that this tech likely won’t be accepted by patients without physician recommendation first. The problem with that, Ganapathy claims, is that physicians aren’t adopting mHealth because they’re afraid it’ll hurt their businesses. It’s an interesting point of view, especially since India holds one-sixth of the world’s population.

The counterpoint to Ganapathy’s was presented by Joseph Kvedar of Partners Healthcare’s Center for Connected Health, who believes the future of mobile health tech will be in the patients’ hands. He’s quoted as saying, “I think there is a role for automated coaching and maybe, maybe, the doctor isn’t the center of the universe.” If he’s right about patients’ willingness to take their wellness into their own hands, it could certainly shake up the healthcare dynamic, at least here inAmerica.

It’s worth wondering how much of the debate, at least between these two, is a cultural one, with an increasing number of Americans relying on their smartphones 24/7. Add to this the fact that Apple’s iPhone and iPad, both geared toward consumers, have almost changed the mobile business market, and are now firmly entrenched in the medical world. Kvedar’s point seems all the more poignant.America is app-obsessed. Gadgets help many of us in every area of life; why shouldn’t healthcare be included? But how far should it go? All the way to your EHR?

HIMSS also published this article, in which Sanjay Pingle, President of Skyscape and Physicians Interactive Holdings, cites consumer-driven applications and devices like the Jawbone UP as ways patients (whom Pingle makes a point to call “consumers” throughout the article), are maintaining their own health, recalling Kvedar’s “automated coaching”.

Pingle coins a term in “mHealth 2.0”, which he says will begin with the smartphone becoming a “health and wellness hub”, and eventually be able to transfer data between the consumer and their provider’s EHR. It’s a fascinating thought. The ability to provide real-time updates into EHR databases could make for intensely proactive healthcare. If consumers go out of their way to purchase something like UP or download an app that helps control their diabetes, they’re clearly interested in their personal health. But whether or not they want that level of connectivity to their “official record” is yet to be determined. Are people comfortable with having their personal medical data more accessible to everyone?

After all, as Ganapathy is quoted, “Good healthcare is not ordering pizza on a mobile phone.” It’s a serious issue for many people. It makes for an empowering thought that more of a consumer’s healthcare can be placed in their own hands. The real question lies in whether they really want the increased access to information and responsibility, or whether they really do want to still be considered “patients”.