4 ways mobile health could save $400B in health costs

The latest and greatest in mobile technology is on display this week at the Mobile World Congress (and you can see my colleagues’ coverage of that here). But so are the applications of that technology. Health care, education, urban planning and other sectors stand to benefit from mobile technology and a report out Monday from the GSMA and PricewaterhouseCoopers gives a snapshot of how mobile technology could save money, increase opportunities and enhance health and safety in the coming years.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, one million lives could be saved over the next five years with mobile health initiatives that help patients stick to their treatment plans and access information, as well as aid workers in monitoring the available of medication and follow treatment guidelines, according to the report. For example the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) enables health care workers and pregnant women to share health information via SMS; TxtAlert in South Africa helps HIV patients and healthcare workers comply with Anti Retroviral Therapy programs, cutting missed appointment rates from 27 percent to 4 percent, the report says.

In developed countries, as we’ve reported, mobile health can also lead to positive outcomes. In 2017, the report says, mobile health could cut health care costs in developed countries by more than $400 billion.

Considering that the GSMA represents the interests of the mobile technology industry, it’s no surprise that the report touts its potential social benefits. And there are obviously challenges to mobile health’s progress, from regulatory concerns to the expense and time commitment needed to implement new systems to culture clashes between the medical and technology communities to confidentiality questions. But as doctor shortages mount and hospitals face new mandates related to accountability and electronic records, many in the industry are looking to mobile devices, applications and other programs to improve patient care, lower costs and drive efficiency. (At GigaOM’s Structure:Data conference in March, we’ll uncover more about how big data can improve patient care and lower costs in a panel discussion with  Aetna’s head of innovation.)

Here are four ways mobile health could help cut costs:

Mobile care for sudden health incidents

As telehealth grows – a recent report estimated it could grow by 55 percent this year alone – mobile-based services could become more common in helping with immediate care. The GSMA and PwC report estimates that mobile-based care for patients with sudden health incidents could reduce primary and emergency care visits by 10 percent. Already, companies like Sherpaa and Ringadoc let patients reach physicians 24/7 by phone, text or email.

Remote patient home monitoring

In non-emergency situations, mobile technology could also play a role in helping doctors keep tabs on elderly or recently discharged patients remotely. With Sotera Wireless, for example, doctors can monitor patients’ blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate and other indicators through a flip-phone-sized device worn on a patient’s wrist. GSMA and PwC estimate that remote monitoring technology could lead to elderly care savings of up to 25 percent and improve patients’ quality of life.

Mobile access to electronic health records

As more hospitals migrate to electronic medical records (EMR), patient information will increasingly be captured and accessed from mobile devices. PatientSafe, for example, plugs into several EMR systems and lets doctors and nurses log patient information (like temperature, blood pressure, etc.) and manage other workflow tasks from a souped-up iPod Touch.  According to PwC and GSMA, mobile access to electronic health records could lower the administrative burden on hospitals by 20 to 30 percent.

SMS reminders for scheduling appointments (and taking medication)

The old SMS could also play a bigger role in reducing health costs and improving patient care. Appointment reminder services, like that offered by Kaiser Permanente, have been shown to reduce costs and boost patient attendance. Companies like Blueprint Health’s AllazoHealth and AdhereTech use SMS (and other kinds of communication) to remind patients to take their medication after sensors or algorithms note when a patient hasn’t taken medication or is likely to skip it.

Image by  iadams via Shutterstock.