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Mobile Telehealth Apps Drive Heathcare Disruption

Tracking heart problems with bluetooth-rigged scales. Using sensors to detect and notify individuals and healthcare professionals about changes in blood sugar levels. Texting tips to help people quit smoking or take care of a newborn baby. The crossover between traditional healthcare and mobile technology has arrived, and it’s going global. Quickly.

The idea of mobile health and how technology can help address serious medical issues, such as the epidemic of heart disease and diabetes, has been on the world stage for a few years. But now collaborations between mobile device and service companies and governments are starting to produce results.

This was in evidence last month at the mobile industry’s biggest annual global event, the Mobile World Congress, where Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association, and Paul Jacobs, chairman and chief executive of Qualcomm Inc. shared the limelight and delivered “prime time” keynote speeches. Though they come from different ends of the technology spectrum, their message was the same: Mobile technology is being used to change lives, educate people about healthier habits, reduce mortality rates for chronic and non-communicable diseases, and lower healthcare spending.

“There is a healthcare disruption happening today,” said Brown. “With the rise of mobile technology and a hyper-connected society, we can deliver more personalized care to the people who need it the most. Mobile health gives us new ways to think about disease prevention and treatment.”

The theme continued in smaller, packed rooms over the four-day conference. Doctors, patients, patient advocate groups, health organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, mobile operators, device makers, academics and groups working on device interoperability standards talked about the viability and value of scaling mobile health initiatives.

Most pressing on people’s minds was how to deal with the alarming rise in health issues, in particular heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world. Every three seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes and every seven seconds someone dies from diabetes-related complications, according to Michael Morgan-Curran, GSMA’s global director of mHealth & diabetes program director.

As chronic and non-communicable diseases become epidemic, and medical costs to treat them rise, it’s not surprising that there is a correlating increase in the number of devices and services aimed at making care for patients more manageable while at the same time containing costs. According to GSMA’s Morgan-Curran pointed out, mobile health could reduce healthcare costs in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries by more than $400 billion by 2017.

In the United States, for example, the remote cardiac monitoring market is predicted to grow significantly in the next five years, according to IHS. From $686 million in 2011, IHS is forecasting the market to increase 27 percent to $867 million by 2016. One of the main drivers stems from the pressure healthcare providers are under to cut costs; gathering data on patients outside of the hospital environment is one way to reduce spending.

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