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Mobile Health: the myths and mystery of health tech


Is mobile health just a trend? Everything around us is already going mobile, from media and social life to the sale of goods and services. It would seem healthcare could present the next frontier, but what are the advantages of making our health mobile? Or more importantly, what could possibly go wrong?

To address these questions, it should be noted that there are many different trends and aspects associated with the mobile health movement. Some of these include:

  • Self-tracking of personal fitness, such as monitoring via graphs, analytics, and sensors. (Examples: Cardiio, LoseIt, blood glucose monitor, InsideTracker, brainwave (EEG) headset)
  • Intervention via mobile devices, such as biofeedback for relaxation, persuasive technology for behavioral therapy. (Examples: Breathe, GeriJoy, Podimetrics)
  • Patient information management, including medical history, prescription refills, reminders for upcoming appointments, insurance billing info.
  • Disease, medicine, or caregiver transparency, including crowdsourcing, customer ratings, maps, scheduling appointments. (Examples: Eatery, ZocDoc, Aidin)
  • Gamification, promoting a healthier lifestyles through social networks. (Example: Fitocracy)

Of particular interest to a scientific perspective are the first two trends, including personal fitness tracking and mobile device intervention, which present cheaper and faster ways to get healthcare to the patient.

One significant advantage is the ability for mobile to capture your health behavior out in the real world, where it actually happens. Current healthcare practice is reliant on patient-doctor interactions, where issues such as smoking, over-eating, and sexual activity are too often biased by the patient’s self-assessment conducted in hindsight and within the confines of a doctor’s office. Mobile, by contrast, presents an opportunity to gather health data in realtime, at the point of intervention.

Now a patient and doctor can track the underlying causes for a medical condition as they occur. Analytics software can be used to facilitate this process, helping the patient learn about their own habits and fix them in real time. Some popular mobile app for the quantified self include Fitbit, RunKeeper, the Eatery, and Microsoft HealthVault. You can find a full list at:

Some skeptics would contend that the benefits of mobile are restricted to hobbyists and quantified-self enthusiasts. For most, mobile health tracking would be too time consuming to perform on a daily basis, or to any significant output. Those with chronic disease conditions such as obesity and diabetes are often in such a state due to lifestyle choice, which would not necessarily be consistent with the profile of those enthused by mobile health.

As such, the ability for mobile health to help doctors and caregivers, in addition to patients, can serve to balance this effect. Mobile health holds the potential to help doctors assist with their patients’ health outside the clinical environment, especially for those that need it most, by communicating the results of health data in a time-effective manner. Results of diagnostic tests and evaluations can be sent faster and through easier mediums of communication.

Mobile health platforms can also hasten the process of making appointments at clinical offices (as with drchrono), which can help a sizeable portion of patients that have difficulty making appointments or addressing the availability of care. Mobile provides a rapid way to communicate with medical professionals, as opposed to neglecting early signs of illness until a catastrophic event. Patients could potentially send a log of their data to the respective physician, in turn receiving dosage information or recommended diet changes before the need for any intervention.

The advent of mobile in turn presents patients with a platform to take ownership of their health, and caregivers a medium to reach their patients.  The ubiquity of self-tracking data emerging from mobile health will be increasingly helpful, as we truly cannot test assumptions about our health without the data points from the real world.

[about_box image=””]Ana Mrejeru (Twitter: Miss_Anamaria) is a postdoctoral scientist at the Columbia University Medical Center. Her focus of research is on healthcare technologies for brain disorders, building neuroscience apps for improved learning, and is also a member of the Science Advocate program.[/about_box]


Ana Mrejeru


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