Emerging mHealth technologies are transforming patient care by integrating health data across the healthcare landscape. Wearable mobile sensors, smart drug delivery devices, smartphone apps and individualised telemedicine increasingly provide continuous data collection, treatment adjustment and active patient engagement in real time.
These mHealth technologies are converging with EHRs, big data analytics and provider services to create a digital health ecosystem – one that moves treatment out of the clinic and into patients’ daily lives.
With predictions that global revenues from mHealth devices will reach $46.2 billion by 2021, according to BCC Research, medical device manufacturers have an opportunity to benefit by positioning themselves as early pioneers.
This blog outlines the opportunities and advantages for patients and organisations participating in this new digital health ecosystem.
Benefits for the connected patient
At the centre of the digital healthcare ecosystem stands the connected patient with his or her mobile devices generating vast amounts of real-world health data. This information is downloaded via a cloud or transferred wirelessly to EHRs or other clinician interfaces so that it can be used by physicians to make better, faster diagnoses, and more informed and personalised treatment decisions.
Furthermore, integrating mHealth data with clinician monitoring -- especially for patients with chronic diseases -- can provide enhanced care coordination and lasting relationships between patients and physicians.
Real-time data and analytics can help to better manage chronic conditions by informing clinicians when an intervention might be needed, and by involving patients in their own care planning and disease prevention. For example, a patient with heart disease could weigh him or herself daily at home with a scale that streams data to a health centre. If an abnormal pattern emerges, a physician can be alerted of a possible risk of readmission.
Or, a patient with asthma might use an inhaler with a sensor that collects data on how many puffs are used per day, and the number of times and where a patient experiences symptoms. In addition to the sensor, a mobile app might alert the patient to track their symptoms and when to take medications.
Patients with diabetes might use an app that gathers data from wearable insulin or glucose monitors, an activity tracker, and information from their diet, which could predict when they will experience high or low blood-sugar levels. Google has a soft contact lens in clinical trials that continuously streams blood glucose level data to the cloud via Bluetooth, and notifies patients when their blood sugar levels are changing.
Blood sugar data from mobile sensors can feed smart insulin delivery devices such as an artificial pancreas or smart injection pen that automatically adjusts doses and timing based on need. These technologies help patients take more control of their own health conditions, and could lower the costs of managing chronic disease.
Over time, a repository of collected data from thousands of individuals will allow organisations to find solutions to larger challenges in care delivery across entire populations, which will help to address or even prevent public health crises. Compiling large data sets from populations not only will lead to a better understanding of individual patient needs, but also can result in improved health outcomes of populations and an overall reduction in cost of care.
Advantages for device manufacturers
Through the digital health ecosystem, manufacturers can leverage the power of data and analytics to demonstrate the value of their products, and continually develop innovative new products and services. Linking products through an ecosystem can create brand loyalty by building relationships through interactive mobile apps. The ecosystem is flexible, presenting many opportunities to participate.
One way to is to develop all the parts needed to build an ecosystem that addresses a specific condition, such as cardiac arrhythmia. These might include a treatment device integrated with mobile sensors that can communicate with clinicians about symptoms and device performance, and/or smartphone apps to inform patients when they need an appointment, to connect them to call centres when they have questions, or to provide information on what they need to do to stay healthy.
Another avenue to participating in the digital health ecosystem is through partnerships. Many mHealth and other technologies that were developed separately can and are being connected. A mobile device that tracks a body function or symptom might be combined with an app that shares the information with patients or alerts healthcare professionals.
Apps that connect with many devices and incorporate analytics could help patients and clinicians choose the best option among a wide range of therapies, or alert when a better option might be available as a patient’s condition changes. This could create a powerful system for improving healthcare awareness and delivery, while opening opportunities for developers of every size and type to participate.
Of course, a successful digital ecosystem must consider patients’ communication preferences. And approximately a billion smartphone users are potential patients. More than 165,000 health-related apps are available for Apple or Android smartphones, and have been downloaded 1.7 billion times .
The popularity of these products also creates an opportunity for manufacturers to extend their product lines by developing apps that manage data coming from their devices. Also, it allows companies to collaborate, for example, by connecting an inhaler from one manufacturer to an app from another developer that tracks asthma symptoms and medications.
By participating in and contributing to a digital health ecosystem, manufacturers have the benefit of competitive dominance in the market by establishing a stronger relationship with providers by creating superior value propositions for patients and clinicians. Also, a digital ecosystem can help payers and organisations identify patients who are in trouble before a severe event occurs, leading to cost savings and preferred status for devices and therapies that are connected through an ecosystem.
For deeper insights into the digital healthcare ecosystem and the opportunities mHealth has for manufacturers read the mHealth white paper.
 Mobile Health (mHealth) Technologies and Global Markets. May 2017.
 Smart Lens Program.
 Fostering Medical Innovation: A Plan for Digital Health Devices, 15 June 2017.