The ubiquitous state of smart wireless devices is doing more than connecting people and businesses to each other anywhere anytime, it is also dramatically increasing the adoption and demand for remote health monitoring and mobile health (mHealth), or telemedicine. This is the focus of one of Smith's MarketWatch Quarterly in-depth articles, to be distributed to subscribers (free) this week, and made public on www.smithweb.com later this month.
Recent data show that, in 2011, the mHealth dedicated-device and software market was roughly US $740 million and is expected to grow by 300% to roughly US $2.5 billion by 2018. The ability to quickly provide health solutions via a smartphone or tablet represents exciting and immediate opportunities that leverage existing technologies by adding medical applications and additional wearable devices.
The broader category of medical electronics is forecasted to double in the global market, from US $8.5 billion in 2012 to US $16.8 billion in 2018, according to MarketResearch as cited by SEMI. The continued strong growth of wearable health and medical electronics is a significant driver for mHealth growth because many of the wearable health and medical electronics transmit data to remote databases, people, or other devices.
EHR and Big Data
Also included in the mHealth sector is the still emerging electronic health records (EHR) filed which is still only seeing nominal adoption, to a great degree because of the IT solutions (and learning curve for users!) required of healthcare providers on their back-end and the convergence and migration to full digitized records. However, in the US, for example, there are federal mandates requiring the steady migration and adoption of EHR, which has only reached roughly 10% at this point – indicating significant growth is yet to come.
The struggles businesses are facing with Big Data and requisite new analytics and hardware to handle these massive data sets are similarly faced by healthcare providers and insurers, who recognize both the benefits and quandaries of handling not only the existing data sets but adding the new data from remote monitoring and medical electronics devices. These challenges do present exciting and important opportunities for significant improvements in preventative care and early intervention with greater historical data to inform providers of patients' conditions. The struggle for many providers though rests in the EHR solutions and software adoptions – making the new hardware purchases the easier learning curve for many.
Beyond these challenges though are the requirements for increasing bandwidth along which mHealth and medical electronics data will be transmitted. In response, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced the creation of a new position, Health Care Director, "who will function as the central contact for external groups on all health-related issues. The move is one of several steps designed to pave the way to making mobile health technology an integral part of medical care within five years," as reported by InformationWeek. Additionally, "the FCC plans to expand broadband connectivity and advance the use of mobile devices, wireless health technology, and medical body area network (MBAN) devices," according to the article. The challenges rest in the FCC's requirements around licensing and around the stringent EHR security requirements, although these challenges are being readily met by EHR software and medical electronics device manufacturers.
The next step is for the FCC and hospital and healthcare facility networks to work together to in solving broadband capacity requirements which will further encourage the adoption of electronic health records, as the report suggests. These plans and suggestions for cooperative solutions are part of the recent, multi-year steps the FCC has taken in order "[…] to take advantage of mobile technology in healthcare, including the release of the country's first National Broadband Plan in 2010. The plan identified ways in which the expansion of broadband technology could foster innovation and a better healthcare system."