August 21, 2014

What is mHealth? Where Cheap Technology, Payment Reform, and Big Data Meet

By: Cassie Arnold On March 3, 2013

A few weeks back I had a cold. When I called the doctor’s office, they scheduled a time for the doctor to call me on the phone rather than scheduling a time for me to come in. From my perspective, as a person with a bad cold, this was a transformational mHealth moment.

Of course, a phone call only barely qualifies as mHealth. But it brought to mind the way that the term “mHealth” is coming to be used for everything related to the shift of health care delivery out of the clinic and into other venues such as the home, the workplace or the supermarket as Jordan Kramer of Kaiser Permanente Ventures said at the Burrill Digital Health conference – where, for the record, I caught the cold.

Also at the Burrill conference, Matthew Holt, founder of Health 2.0 and mHealth guru, made a point of saying that he now has foresworn the term mHealth as being too cellphone specific. He said he is lobbying for the term “unplatformed health” but acknowledges that everyone else thinks it’s a terrible phrase.

He has an important point – particularly to someone who named a publication Mobile Health Market News less than a year ago. Mobile Health is hardly an adequate term for the converging forces that are transforming health care delivery, but it is a phrase that has gained traction in the public’s imagination.

Sometimes the lexicon doesn’t keep up with technology. A hundred years ago, typists were called “typewriters,” as devotees of Downton Abbey will recall. But words don’t have values in and of themselves. The essence of a term is whatever we ascribe to it. When I grew up, an apple was a fruit. Now it’s a stylish piece of hardware. (Not to mention, when I grew up, a piece of hardware was what my father had in the tool chest.)

So what is mHealth? Today it is the intersection of cheap technology (primarily sensors and bandwidth), the shift to pay-for-performance in health care (as opposed to fee-for-service), and the explosion of health care data (that makes it increasingly overwhelming to both patients and clinician without sophisticated analytic tools).

But a year from now, odds are the term mHealth will have further evolved. And eventually, the concept of health care anywhere, anytime, health care that is seamlessly integrated into our lives, will simply be called “health care.”

 

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