Telehealth and wearable devices are hot ticket items for health IT developers and investors as remote monitoring and mHealth (mobile health) become increasingly important tools in the fight for better chronic disease management, says Jennifer Bresnick reporting in mHealthintelligence.com.

'Devices everywhere talking to devices anywhere will radically change health care', says John Glaser, Ph.D., Senior vice President of Cerner Corp..

Remote monitoring gives people with chronic illness more freedom and independence, but they can make everyone more aware of their health – that can only be a good thing for the health care system by reducing unplanned hospital readmissions, and lowering healthcare costs..

Imagine, before you are fully awake in the morning, your bed has transmitted information about your sleep quality to your physician. Later in the day, your elderly mother's pill bottle alerts you and her physician's office that she hasn't taken her blood pressure meds.

Imagine the value to a person whose irregular heart rate triggers an alert to the cardiologist, who, in turn, can call them immediately to seek care. Or, imagine a miniaturized, implanted device or skin patch that monitors a diabetic's blood sugar, movement, skin temperature and more, and informs an insulin pump to adjust the dosage.

Such monitoring, particularly for individuals with chronic diseases, could not only improve health status, but also lower costs, enabling earlier intervention before a condition becomes more serious. Already underway in the US is a clinical trial that equips heart failure patients with sensors to measure key indicators like blood pressure and heart rhythm. Some estimates show there is a remarkable 64% drop in hospital readmissions for patients whose blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels were monitored remotely.

"The goal of telehealth is to prevent hospital readmission, reduce in-office visits, better manage health of individuals with long term conditions and reduce costs for more remote and isolated healthcare providers," said iData Research CEO Dr. Paul Zamanian.

According to Research and Markets the world telehealth market slated to grow from US$17.8 billion in 2014 at an 18.4% compound annual growth rate until the end of the decade. The take up in Australia has been slow – but we will accelerate for here.

The mobile health industry has been revolutionizing the way both doctors and patients approach medicine today. When it comes to addressing health issues, mobile health consumers are moving toward preventing disease and increasing fitness and wellness. Through fitness trackers and wearable devices, more people are focused on exercise and diet.

"New developments in machine intelligence will make us far far smarter as a result, for everyone on the planet," Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, said in a public statement. "It's because our smart phones are basically supercomputers."

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an ever-expanding universe of devices and technologies with equally expanding potential uses.

"Around 400 million people in the last year got a smartphone," says Eric Schmidt. "If you think that's a big deal, imagine the impact on that person in the developing world."

What qualifies a device to be part of the Internet of Things? According to professionals, a sensor-equipped "thing" must have three qualities. It must be aware; it must be able to sense and collect data about its surroundings, such as temperature and light or, in the case of health care, blood pressure and heart rate, for example. It must be autonomous. The data collected must be communicated to another device or central location automatically or when certain conditions are met. Lastly, it must be actionable. If an individual's blood pressure or blood sugar levels are at a dangerous level, it must automatically trigger an alert and initiate clinician action.

"Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of the Microsoft Corporation, has stated, "I'm most grounded on the role of technology. Ultimately to me it's about the human capital and the human potential and technology empowers humans to do great things. You have to be optimistic about what technology can do in the hands of humans."

The majority of mobile health application users and medical professionals believe that mobile health apps are beneficial to their quality of life, according to a survey by Research Now, mHealth Intelligence reports.

A Research Now survey in the US published in June 2015 found that 96% of surveyed mobile health users and medical professionals said that mobile health apps "improve their quality of life."

Among 1,000 mobile health app users, the survey found:

  • 60% use apps to monitor activity/workouts (Gruessner, mHealth Intelligence, 6/12);
  • 53% use apps as motivation to exercise;
  • 49% use apps to record calorie intake; and
  • 42% use apps to monitor weight loss (Research Now survey, June 2015).

Among the survey of 500 health care professionals, the survey showed:

  • 86% believe mobile health apps will improve their management of their patients' medical conditions;
  • 76% believe the apps will help patients with chronic disease management (mHealth Intelligence, 6/12);
  • 61% believe the apps will help those who are at a high risk of developing health issues.
  • 55% believe the apps could help healthy individuals stay healthy;
  • 48% believe the apps could help patients recently discharged from a hospital; and
  • 46% believe the apps will improve their relationship with their patients.
  • In addition, the survey found that 46% of health care professionals said they plan on using health care apps in the next five years (Research Now survey, June 2015).

The take up of mobile devices and health apps in Australia is bound to produce similar results.

"Smartphones and wearables are driving a major behavioural shift in consumer health and wellness. Beyond a desire to speed access to information, consumers are using technology to engage proactively in managing their health – and a personality of 'search' is influenced by specific medical conditions, " says Gil Bashe, executive vice president of Makovsky Health who published the Research Now report.

The Internet and mobile devices will bring a stunning array of new capabilities to our personal and professional lives. These capabilities are embryonic in Australia, but there are enough examples in health care that we can begin to see a future that is extremely exciting – and the beauty of it is that it will be available to everyone!

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