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Jose Marquez

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Will mHealth Revolutionize Healthcare?

Posted: 03/ 7/2012 5:58 am

You almost certainly have a cell phone (83 percent of Hispanics do, according to a recent study), and it's probably a smartphone with capabilities far beyond talking and texting.

Perhaps you use it for social networking, checking the weather or sports, or games. But have you thought about how this device may actually improve your health?

It's true. Revolutionary new applications designed to work exclusively with your smartphone can help you manage your health, let your doctor monitor your condition remotely, and even let you know when it's time to take medications.

Take diabetes, a disease with a higher than average prevalence in the Hispanic community. Specialized apps permit a patient to measure blood sugar by inserting a strip into a slot, providing a reading and sending the results directly to a doctor. And the application offers health information to patients as well to help them manage their condition better.

Text4baby is another mobile, or "mHealth" solution. It offers advice via text message in English and Spanish for expecting and new mothers. Already, over 281,000 women have enrolled in the system, which has sent millions of text messages to assist pregnant women and new mothers in getting their newborns off to a good start.

New wireless products like iTriage and Care Pass are revolutionary applications which puts the patient in the center of the healthcare equation and gives them the power wirelessly to make health care decisions when, where and how it's most convenient for them. AETNA's CarePass will deliver an integrated health care solution that securely provides information when and where consumers want it. As of today more than five million Americans are already using iTriage, making it one of the most downloaded health and fitness apps in both the iTunes® App store and Android Market history.

Another new product is the "glowcap," wirelessly connected to a smartphone. It provides visual and sound reminders of the need to take medicine at the proper time, which helps with adherence to medication schedules, important for diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

In health, nothing substitutes for prevention. Yet far too many Latinos today do not have access to a doctor because of cost or mobility issues. To help with this, there is another recent innovation, the "doc in a box." It will help connect patients to healthcare in areas where access to doctors and medicine is difficult. The "box" contains a video camera offering high quality video, broadband access (both wireless and wireline), and equipment for basic medical tests such as EKGs. Once vital signs are taken, the information goes straight into a patient's record, which can now be maintained electronically.

In California, the wireless revolution in healthcare will be greatly assisted by a new law that permits doctors to be able to consult with patients remotely ("telehealth"), without the need for an in-person visit first. This is a major step forward, particularly for seniors, migrant workers, and those who live in rural areas.

But products like these are only the beginning of the technology revolution in healthcare enabled by broadband. Fortunately, the Latino community is well positioned to take advantage of these changes. According to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos already obtain a great deal of health information from media and are taking positive steps for their health as a result.

But to make these and other health-related applications a reality for everyone who needs them in our community, people will be need to access the wireless Internet securely, reliably, and quickly. As demand for mHealth and other applications grows, the spectrum we already have, particularly in major cities, is getting crowded. Network operators are deploying advanced, fourth-generation broadband services across the country now, but they will need more spectrum to be sure everyone can use these types of innovative applications. A remote patient consultation needs to be transmitted smoothly, not be dropped. Only with additional spectrum for wireless will everyone be able to access the wireless Web when they need it.

For patients, these new solutions offer greater convenience and better access to healthcare services. More important, they will help reduce the overall costs of health care while at the same time ensuring better health outcomes. And in healthcare, nothing is more important than that.

Follow the National Latino Alliance on Health Information Technology at @latinohealtit