Interoperability key to m-health success

Mobile health apps and services won’t take off without the involvement of various players from healthcare and insurance companies to governments and the patients themselves, experts said Thursday.
The concept of the handset as a health diagnostic tool is closer to reality than ever as the healthcare sector itself undergoes a major shift from being hospital-centric to patient-centric, said Ursula Oesterle, VP of innovation at Swisscom.
“The focus is shifting from episodic diagnosis and treatment at a hospital to continuous self-diagnostic healthcare focused on wellness, lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking, and prevention,” she told an mHealth panel session at Mobile Asia Congress in Hong Kong Thursday.
“We’re also seeing more user-led innovation via social networks, and distributed information where you can look up health information on the web.”
Clive Smith, director of global operations for the Mobile Health Alliance, agreed, adding that lack of interoperability was a major barrier for mHealth uptake, be it between different healthcare systems between hospitals and government departments, or even between individual apps.
“There are 9,000 health apps available today, but hardly any of them talk to each other or share data,” he said.
An additional challenge is the tendency of the mobile and healthcare industries seeing one another as one part of their own ecosystem, but understanding very little about how the other ecosystem works, he added.
“The ecosystem needs to be conscious of itself as an ecosystem,” Smith said.
Professor K. Ganapathy, president of the Telemedicine Society of India, echoed the need for more interoperability and cooperation. “I am frustrated – I have been trying to do telemedicine in India for ten years, but I cannot integrate it into the country’s healthcare delivery system. There is no interoperability at all. Just something like access to health records via mobile can make a tremendous difference. ”
Ganapathy mHealth needed to sell itself as a concept. “The masses need to understand this. We need success stories so they can see that their phone can do these things. It needs to be promoted heavily by operators, governments, NGOs and anyone else who can spread the word.”
Oesterle added that operators can cash in on mHealth as long as they understand the strengths they bring to the table – namely a brand name, customer base, technological expertise with integration and M2M, tech support and wide geographical presence via POS shops.
“Mobile will serve as an extension of existing services, and function as part of a much larger ecosystem,” she said.
The level of cooperation and integration required may be a tall order, but it will also foster more effective and innovative mobile health apps, said Ganapathy, such as traveling asthmatics receiving air-quality warnings on the move and people with high cholesterol being given real-time advice on what foods to avoid in the supermarket.
But he cautioned that mobile healthcare apps should be need-driven, not technology-driven. “Don’t make devices and then search for apps – wait for me to tell you what I want, then develop an app for it.”