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Mobile Health

In Delivery on September 21, 2009 at 10:33 am

Cell phones 4 p8tients n MDz

Alexis Karlin, Staff Writer

Mobile Phones

Throughout the world, engineers and innovators have been asking themselves this question: what if cell phones played a key role in health care? What if all one needed to update and check one’s medical records and to communicate with one’s physician was a Blackberry, cellular phone, or Palm Pilot? From these questions grew the technological movement that is developing rapidly in the United States and elsewhere, promising great benefits for the health care system.

Experts say that this innovation, known as “Mobile Health,” could potentially save the American health system hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars, if implemented within the coming years. Already utilized in Europe, Mobile Health has been steadily gaining momentum in the American system. Its imminent application into the medical world promises to bring financial benefits and improve the facility and efficiency of patient-physician relations. As the population grows and ages, doctors are in increasingly higher demand, but they have a limited amount of time with each patient. Developers of Mobile Health technology hope that their products will remedy this issue.

Peter Waegemann of the Mobile Health Initiative in Boston, MA,  told the  t told the HCGHR that the term “Mobile Health” refers to “all applications in health care where cell phones, PDAs, laptops, any kind of computer are being used.”[1] Presently, Mobile Health Initiative and similar companies are working on ways for patients to check personal health records, make appointments, and communicate directly with their doctors through mobile technology.

The hope is that as communication between doctors and patients are condensed to SMS text and e-mail messaging, Mobile Health technology will save patients’ and doctors’ money and time, speeding up the follow-up process in particular. Using this technology, patients will be able to receive instantaneous feedback from their physicians when they have a complaint that needs immediate attention. Mobile Health technology will also improve patients’ adherence because their PDA devices will remind them to take their prescribed medication.

Mobile Health will enable doctors and patients to access medical records via cell phones or Blackberries—once these medical records are digitalized. The Obama administration is currently working with health experts to implement electronic health records, which it says will save millions of dollars in the future.[2] Once this change takes effect, experts predict that mobile health technology will take off.

Waegemann predicts that by the end of 2009 and 2010, Mobile Health will be fully implemented in the U.S. health care system.

Mobile Health may reach even into the developing world, where medical health workers are striving to treat rare diseases in remote areas. Currently, health workers often must travel long distances between rural villages and urban-area hospitals to test their samples. Armed with Mobile Health technology, they can drastically reduce time cost by simply sending a picture of the samples via PDAs to computers that can perform tests on the data. This could lead to significant improvements in health care of developing nations.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding Mobile Health, some skeptics worry about privacy issues.  The companies developing the technology must ensure that patients’ privacy is not compromised through the digital exchange of medical records. Those concerned about patient confidentiality call for the development of impenetrable firewalls to prevent the exploitation of patients’ medical histories, especially in today’s society, where identity theft is a common occurrence.

Hospitals also worry that  cell phones and PDAs will interfere with crucial medical machinery.  Many companies and hospitals are not forming what experts call the “right” kinds of policies to implement Mobile Health.

Often, hospitals are so concerned with the drawbacks of Mobile Health that they are hesitant to try the new technology in their systems.

While this technology saves patients’ time and money, it also removes the personal contact between physician and patient. How can patients put their trust in a doctor with whom they hardly ever come into contact? How can a doctor fully diagnose patients’ complaints without hearing about and seeing the problem firsthand? Will Mobile Health enhance doctor-patient relations due to an increase in digital communications, or will it result in the deterioration of these relations? In today’s busy, technological world, Mobile Health has a necessary function, but the personal relationship between doctor and patient will always be preferable to a faceless association, especially when the other aforementioned drawbacks are taken into account.

Mobile Health is still in its “embryonic stage”[3], and it is certain that engineers will at the least be able to solve the technological issues of the digital movement. Despite the drawbacks concerning patient-doctor relations, Mobile Health promises to be an important step forward in the American health care system, while other aspects of the technology suggest vast improvements in the health care of the developing world.


[1] Waegemann, Peter. Mobile Health Initiative. Interview 2009 Feb 23.

[2] Lohr, Steve. How to Make Electronic Records a Reality. 2009 Feb 28. New York Times.

[3] Waegemann, Peter. Mobile Health Initiative. Interview 2009 Feb 23.

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