COVID-19 Impact on mHealth in the Healthcare Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has made an unprecedented effect on daily lives as well as the global economy. The impact on the healthcare sector has been seismic too and a significant burden is created on already strained healthcare systems across the world. As the overworked healthcare providers are grappling with constant rise in number of cases, patients are looking towards digital technologies for aid.
COVID-19 outbreak has also made healthcare professionals to look for alternative methods to traditional systems and processes. This is leading an expedited adoption of mHealth across the industry both from providers and consumers.
During the pandemic, several healthcare systems have bifurcated healthcare requirements into essential and non-essential based on urgency and overall requirement for care. As the non-essential requirements are given less priority during the pandemic, patients are resorting to mHealth solutions. This is augmenting the adoption of mHealth apps across a variety of therapeutic areas.
As the pandemic subsides, the healthcare industry is expected to witness drastic structural and procedural changes as a large number of people become sceptic of visiting closed spaces with high risks of infection. Hence, it can be concluded that the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to play a significant role in the digital transformation of healthcare industry.
The availability of healthcare apps is growing which are commonly referred to as mHealth (mobile health) apps. These apps are easy to download on smartphones, can be linked with wearable technology and assist the users in disease prevention and overall health management. The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the reliability of patients on mHealth apps in order to take an active and informed role in their own healthcare.
The easy availability of smart phones and the need for alternative ways to take care of health presents a notable opportunity for mHealth apps providers to expand features and usage. Companies are focusing towards connectivity improvements and interoperability of mHealth apps in terms of data storage and data transfer to healthcare providers. This level of data collection is also useful for tracking overall population health. Before the availability of this kind of data, health authorities were dependent on tedious population studies that had several limitations. MHealth has the capability to provide real time population health information through mass data collection. As a result, healthcare authorities across the world are taking initiatives for MHealth. The below chart shows the percentage of countries taking mHealth initiatives across various WHO regions:
COUNTRIES UNDERTAKING MHEALTH INITIATIVES ACROSS WHO REGIONS
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of digital approaches more than ever before that are designed to help health professionals and the public to maintain communication about a disease and stay updated with fresh information that will enable better strategic planning.
The market is flooded with mHealth apps and consumers have a lot to choose from. However, there is significant variation in their capabilities. Till now, the functionalities of these apps are narrow primarily due to mild demand and are restricted to providing information only. As the demand and the number of apps are increasing in the market, multi-functionality is becoming common. In order to enhance, consumers experience in managing their health, multi-functionalities for online appointment scheduling, medication reminders, online consultation and sending diagnostic test results to healthcare providers for analysis, review and action. These apps are superior in assisting consumers in managing and monitoring their health as compared to the information and education apps.
Currently, there are no authorities to check on the efficacy and accuracy of these apps leading to difficulties for healthcare providers to access the validity of data received through these apps. The problem is worsened with the mushrooming of mHealth apps leading to consumers self-determining the best app for their use by trying an overwhelming number of options without consent or consulting from health professionals. However, privately funded third party organizations are putting efforts to establish rating and evaluation systems that will indicate the appropriateness of these apps. Few of these organizations are Happtique, HealthTap, PatientView, Wellocracy and AppScript. These ratings are primarily based on user ratings, clinical ratings, and proprietary scoring methods. As a result, few products have low functionality scores but high rating due to scoring factors such as high clinical or patient ratings.
As the position of mHealth apps become more important in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, national health authorities are expected to launch rating and licensing platforms for higher efficiency and reduce crowding in the market.
· The United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) has expanded their publicly funded prescribing platform to include clinically safe consumer apps.
The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of population health monitoring systems and burden on healthcare systems. mHealth has the potential to meet these requirements. Few areas in current healthcare landscape where mHealth can be useful are listed below:
Reducing physical contact: Medical distancing has played an important role in reducing the infection rate of the novel virus. Key healthcare authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advocated for minimal physical contact between the healthcare providers and patients. Since providers work near infected patients, they might likely contact the virus or act as a carrier which can be further spread to a healthy patient. With the help of mHealth apps, patients can share required data with physicians without actually visiting the healthcare providers. This will not only help in reducing COVID-19 infection but several other types of infections that a patient might contact in a healthcare establishment.
mHealth services are playing an important role in reducing healthcare-specific COVID-19 transmission. Due to sudden burden on healthcare facilities, treatments are given priorities on the basis of urgency. Moreover, patient not infected with COVID-19 virus do not want to visit these facilities. In this case, to treat mHealth is proving to be of immense use in several therapeutic areas including cardiology, dermatology, diabetic care and others by enabling high-quality remote care and reducing contact.
Population Health Management: The uncontrollable surge of COVID-19 infections has highlighted the need of crowdsourced health monitoring by tracking the infected. Existing surveillance systems have drawbacks associated with flexibility and amount of reliable information. mHealth offers the ability to collect real time information from a significant share of the population making the information more reliable and easy to use as compared to existing systems. mHealth can also be used by healthcare agencies to track the hotspots and carriers by analyzing travel routes which in turn provides information regarding the probability of catching an infection. Hence, health agencies can better manage health population by crowdsourcing disease monitoring using mHealth.
Health Information Exchange Improvement: The lack of appropriate health information exchanges has shown that interoperability of patient data is very important. The importance of other data types apart from core patient data including an individual’s offline and online activity has helped immensely in tracking of the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. In the aftermath of the virus, HIEs are expected to become open and un-localized. The infection has showed that in similar times, there is a crucial need for information to stop the spread of infection and save lives. The need for easy, seamless communications in healthcare is also important.
Health Gadgets: The COVID-19 infection increased the wellbeing awareness and anxiety across the world. It has instilled a sense of fear of infection that has led to increased adoption of smartphone applications and wearables. mHealth apps and complementary wearables play a crucial role in gaining information and getting a sense of protected. They provide accurate feedback on bodily functions including blood pressure and body temperature which helps in tracking health.
Several companies are using mHealth technology to track, test, and treat COVID-19.
· Google and Apple have announced that the companies are planning to launch APIs to provide interoperability between iOS and Android products. The companies are also aiming at enabling deeper data integration with the mHealth apps for public health initiatives of the government. To achieve the same, they are developing Bluetooth-based contact training features.
· Walgreens announced expansion of its telehealth program including COVID-19 risk assessment. The platform meets the demands for social distancing and includes a website and mobile health application powered by Microsoft Healthcare Bot on Microsoft Azure. The platform helps patients to connect with nurses and doctors as per requirement.
· SCP Health and SOC Telemed declared their partnership to provide scalable emergency service and hospital medicine through telemedicine that will enhance the critical capability of healthcare facilities.
· Jefferson Health system and LifeLink have announced partnership to launch Jefferson’s chatbot across LifeLink’s 14 Philadelphia locations. The AI-based chabot will aid users in pre-screening of coronavirus outbreak and the right approach of their treatment in case they are infected with the virus.
The post-COVID-19 healthcare is expected to see transformation of processes with high inclusion of mHealth.
· Primary care and management of several non-communicable diseases are expected to be shifted to digital mode. Several countries including England, have begun to embrace telehealth for delivery of primary care and are undertaking a digital first approach for overall healthcare provision.
The sudden outbreak did not leave much scope for prompt action on impact. However, the post-COVID-19 world will witness increased adoption of mHealth as the new normal. Applications of emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, IoT, and others will be expanded. National governing bodies will emerge to manage mHealth approaches. Focus on precision health will also increase in both personalized and predictive health. The utilization of digital technology will increase for empowering patients to self-manage themselves, especially in case of non-communicable diseases.