How Mobile Technology is Making Inroads in Digital Healthcare

November 30, 2017

Blog

Healthcare is an increasingly digital affair.  Patients are increasingly able to access, monitor and add to their healthcare records via connected devices such as their mobile phones.  By using recent innovations such as healthcare apps, they can play a more active role in managing health conditions, sending information in real time to update medical professionals and receive advice directly, without needing to attend clinics.  As one professor of IT noted recently, “smartphones could become advanced tools in the hands of patients and practitioners. Equipped with the right software, they can provide easy-to-use, out-of-the-box solutions to medical challenges – preventing over-prescription of medication, promoting self-care, introducing positive lifestyle changes and warning of early signs.”  The use of such healthcare apps on mobile devices more than doubled between 2014 and 2016, and in the same period the use of wearable medical devices tripled.

Despite increasing interest in the promise of digital healthcare however, barriers to implementation remain, and progress in many areas is slow. Even in some high-income countries, implementation is scheduled over periods of decades, with consequently negative outcomes in care coordination and supply-chain efficiency.  In England for example, despite 77 per cent of patients agreeing that greater patient control over digital health records would improve health outcomes, only 16 per cent have shared app data with their doctor.

Consumer confidence is crucial here.  Healthcare is among the most sensitive areas of our lives – and, if the remarkable potential of wholesale digitisation in health services is to be realised, confidence in how access to records is managed must be assured.  Privacy, security and clarity in authorisation processes are of paramount importance to the scalability of digital healthcare.  Consumers remain wary of entrusting such sensitive data to online tools following some mixed early successes in assuring data protection.

Operators are uniquely placed to achieve this confidence.  By using the unparalleled security credentials mobile networks offer, and the consequently high levels of customer trust they enjoy, operators and their partners can ensure that patients are able to commit fully to the digital capabilities now available to them.  The trust operators can command can then be put to solving the next great challenge in digital healthcare: interoperability.  Allowing highly complex healthcare systems to communicate seamlessly is now perhaps the holy grail of digital healthcare; should digital health succeed in reaching scale, it is forecast to save €99 billion in healthcare costs across the European Union, which could then be reinvested in clinical objectives.

Recognising that barriers to data sharing between healthcare organisations now represent the main cause of 80% of medical errors, Spanish software firm CDE has joined forces with Mobile Connect to conduct a pilot scheme in digital healthcare authentication.  Their platform OpenCDE can be used by patients and authorised healthcare professionals to access medical records securely and conveniently, by identifying users via their mobile phones. The fruits of this pilot was demonstrated at Mobile World Congress 2018, where attendees had the opportunity to experience how the industry can play an enabling role in allowing individuals a more active role in their healthcare, and the peace of mind it can offer them in doing so.  Mobile network operators are the natural partner for innovators in digital healthcare services, which if they are to be interoperable must not be designed in isolation; this latest collaboration is an opportunity to demonstrate the transformative potential in efficiency made possible by interoperable services. The early signs from OpenCDE are highly promising in this regard, and we very much look forward to seeing the case developed next year in Barcelona.

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