Four Reasons to Expand Mobile Technology Usage in Medical Innovation

The healthcare systems around the world are faced with increased challenges including increasing costs, lack of working staff, and of course long waiting lists putting in mind that healthcare expenditure consumes a large portion of the countries’ GDP. For example, in 2015, the healthcare presented 16.8% of the United States’ GDP, 9.8% of the UK’s GDP, and 11.5% of France’s GDP. Actually, the problem is even more complicated as the number of patients admitting to hospitals and medical premises is increasing every day. This is why medical innovation is needed more than before.

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  1. Types of Innovation and How to Utilize Them
  2. Creative Diversity: Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation
  3. The Open Innovation Model’s role in Fueling Creativity

Since problems can’t be solved with the same way it is created, so we have to look at the issue from different innovative perspectives to address these challenges. In his article for the Harvard Business Review, Why Innovation in Health Care is so Hard, Herzlinger introduced six forces that can drive medical innovation:

  • Players working in the medical field
  • Funding and process of generating revenue and acquisition in the sector
  • Policy and the regulations
  • Technology efficiency
  • Engagement with patients
  • Accountability so product address issues such as cost-effectiveness, safety, and competitive products

Based on these factors, mobile technology can present a potential solution for many healthcare problems. Nowadays, mobile apps have become an essential part of our daily routine from tracking our physical activities to manage our financial accounts. While data security still an issue, especially with health records, technology has driven people behaviour change to accept the idea of accessing their health data using their mobile devices. Apple Health app, Nike, and Fitbit are amongst those solutions that depend on tracking activities and recording health data.

medical innovation apps
Fitbit (left) and Health app (right) are examples of the rising of mobile health apps (images source: iTunes).

From a medical innovation perspective, what can mobile application provide to healthcare systems? While digging into different healthcare apps used here in the UK by the National Healthcare System (NHS), many benefits can help to improve the healthcare systems:

Self-Health Management and Patient Empowerment

Some health services don’t necessarily require direct contact with doctors nor staff such as requesting a repeat prescription, changing health data, and booking an appointment. Mobile apps can help patients to manage similar services whiteout the need to visit or call clinics. Some apps provide prescription self-management such as Echo, which allows you to manage medication prescriptions including requesting medication and have it delivered to your home door.

medical innovation
Echo is a UK-based digital prescription service (image source: Echo).

The self-management can drive patient empowerment as they can make decisions for their health regimen and take part in the doctors’ decisions. This principle of concordance has another advantage as patients are more likely to take their medication comparing to the tradition relation between doctors and patients.

Part of the patient empowerment is to drive the patient to learn more about diseases to manage it and encourage them to take their medication. Playphysio is an excellent example of mobile games that help children to do their daily cystic fibrosis daily therapy. So, each time they blow in the therapy device, they get a higher level in a mobile game.

Playphysio cystic fibrosis
Playphysio helps children with cystic fibrosis to joyfully do their daily physiotherapy. (Image source: Playphysio)

Reduce Waiting Lists and Patient Appointments

The lack of staff and resources significantly reflect on the waiting time, either to get treatment or to have a specialist medical selection. Patients suffer long journey waiting to get diagnosed and treated which can have catastrophic consequences in many cases. Medical mobile apps can play a significant role in reducing the waiting time by facilitating diagnosis and treatment tools that patients can self-administered in their homes such as measuring blood sugar or the level of thyroid activity. Then data can be easily archived to patients’ medical record for further use by healthcare staff. Another advantage for mobile-based monitor applications is that doctors can see the data for 24/7 while patients are in their daily routine or homes. Of course, the data can be more reflective and accurate in some situations compared with keeping patients in hospital stay for a specific number of days.

Some treatments can ultimately be delivered through mobile applications such as weight loss, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. These treatments require behaviour change over a long time practice. Therefore, mobile apps have an opportunity to help patients to start their medication without the need to wait for months to see a psychiatric. Applications such as Companion, Sleepio, and Catch It deliver the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) through a treatment course that patients can administrate themselves which reduce the number of appointments with their doctors.

medical innovation
Sleepio (left) and Companion (right) are CBT health apps.

The rise of the artificial intelligent brings the ability for some mobile apps to diagnose the medical case by filtering the symptoms and map it to medical databases. For example, Ada is an AI application that you can tell it what you feel and it provides an idea about the diagnosis. While we still can’t entirely depend on AI-based apps, it can help us to see the different diagnosis possibilities and if a doctor appointment is really required. Another set of apps like Livi allow patients to set a virtual meeting with their doctors without the need to leave their homes which reduces the number of home visits for patients.

Provide Access to Medical Records

For a long time, patients’ medical records were accessible for everyone in the healthcare system but the patients themselves. This is due to many factors and on the top of it is the privacy of information. However, medical innovation has taken this concept to a different route. Now, patients can monitor their health-related data using built-in apps in their devices such as the Apple Health app. This encouraged the healthcare systems to give patients access to their data after filling the required forms and approvals. You can now have access to your previous blood tests, medications, and other information that can drive the concordance between the patients and their doctors to decide the type of treatment, when to take it, and how to make it.

Connect and Socialise with Other Patients

Connecting and talking with other patients who have similar medical problems can help patients to feel less isolated. They can share their pain, suffer, type of medication, and the development of their case with others who have similar diseases. PatientsLikeMe is one of the social networking applications that help connect patients based on their medical problems and the treatment they receive. For example, patients suffering high blood pressure can connect with others suffering the same problem and share their experience together which can have a positive impact on patients’ lives and their adherence to the prescribed medication.

Patients Like Me
Patients Like Me is a social network for patients (image source: iTunes).

The medical innovation in mobile apps can have a significant impact on facing current healthcare challenges. While many of the patients have access to smartphones, they can use medical applications to monitor, diagnose, and treat different diseases. Also, these apps can help them to achieve behaviour change and socialise with other patients who suffer the same medical problems. From the healthcare system, mobile apps can provide relief for many of the issues such as the long waiting list, offer health services to patients regardless their location, and have access to patients vital data without the need to keep them under hospital monitor.

While there are risks related to the security of information, the technology is evolving to manage big data and using biometric data to access to medical information such as facial recognition and fingerprints. Although we see an increasing number of medical apps development, there are various levels of application of these apps based on different healthcare systems which need to expand to achieve benefits patients as well as the healthcare systems.

Dr Rafiq Elmansy

I'm an academic, author and design thinker, currently teaching design at the University of Leeds with a research focus on design thinking, design for health, interaction design and design for behaviour change. I developed and taught design programmes at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Northumbria University and The American University in Cairo. Additionally, I'm a published book author and founder of I am a fellow for the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), and an Adobe Education Leader. I write Adobe certification exams with Pearson Certiport. My design experience involves 20 years working with clients such as the UN, World Bank, Adobe, and Schneider. I worked with the Adobe team in developing many Adobe applications for more than 12 years.

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