There has been a lot of buzz recently around the term mHealth and rightly so. With the continued rise in access to mobile technology and network coverage, particularly in low and middle-income countries, there has been an increase in the opportunities available for the integration of mobile health into existing eHealth services.
In fact, there are now over 5 billion wireless subscribers; 70% of which come from these low-middle income countries. The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) Association reports commercial wireless signals cover over 85% of the world’s population, extending far beyond the reach of the electrical grid.
For this reason alone, it’s enough to get excited about as the possibilities for improvement in people’s health across the globe open up drastically.
The functions of mHealth
With the global ageing phenomenon and its growing effects that will be felt across countries and their health care industries worldwide. It is becoming increasingly important for health care industries to capitalise on new technologies to meet these increasing demands.
MHealth is one of these new technologies emerging within the care sector that is helping health institutions cope and evolve with the adapting priorities and practises they should be adopting. MHealth apps functionality can be split off into 4 categories:
- Illness Management
- Clinical Management
- Education/ Information
Analysis of over 19 individual studies showed that although data collection is rarely outlined as the explicit purpose of mHealth apps, data collected through such technology can be used to inform practice change both in real-time and retrospectively.
This shows the data collected through these mHealth apps is being used to inform and adapt the everyday practices of the institutions using them.
How to put data collection in motion
1. Ease of access
For mHealth apps to collect data the usability for these technologies needs to be as easy as possible. Whether your app is designed to be used by the less tech-savvy patients or the healthcare professionals, a lack of complexity when it comes to usability is imperative if you want successful adoption of your tech.
For older users there are financial, physical and habitual limitations to get over. Whilst a decline in vision and manual dexterity may not lend itself to being the most mobile tech-savvy individual. Whereas if your tech is designed to be used by healthcare professionals to capture data on their patients/ residents, the same obstacle still stands in your way but for different reasons.
Nurses and healthcare professionals are extremely busy individuals, so for successful software adoption to occur there has to be as little a learning curve as possible, as not to impose more work on their already heavily engaged workload.
2. Clear objectives/ goals
For your mHealth app to engage with the industry the purpose of why the data needs to be collected has to be apparent to the user base. For instance, let’s go back to nurses and care professionals and their already busy work day.
If you introduce a new process that they have to add into their already busy schedule, despite how unintrusive it may be if they don’t understand why they’re doing it then it will simply fall by the wayside.
By making data actionable you are giving users a reason to carry on capturing data. By having this data available your users can then go onto use it to inform one of the 4 functions we mentioned earlier, seeing quicker results increasing the confidence that your mHealth tech works.
3. Offer security
For older populations in particular the perception of data collection can still seem like a scary prospect. For example, a study in the ‘Willingness of older adults to share data and privacy concerns after exposure to unobtrusive in-home monitoring’ found 60% of the participants reported concerns related to privacy or security after 1 year. Even though there is little to no difference between this and analogue pen and paper data capture the perception in older people is that it is less trustworthy.
For your mHealth app to stand the test of time ensuring data anonymity and restricting third-party access to your data will be a must. As well as the standard informed consent a comprehensive explanation of what data is collected, and how it will be used will help build trust.
With an ageing population placing unprecedented demands on various aspects of health care, it is becoming increasingly important to capitalise on new technologies to meet these demands.
The challenges lie within breaking down the obstacles we talked about above to help ensure that the user’s data we need to collect are aware of:
- How to operate means of data capture
- Understand why they’re capturing data
- Know that the data they freely give up is in safe hands
If the continued innovation in smart devices, wearables, and sensing devices is any indication of the increasingly sophisticated ways in which we will be able to collect data, the need to mobilize mHealth data collection strategies toward integration of older adults has never been greater.
Check out our mHealth app Gather Care focussed on early-warning signalling of infection outbreak in care homes.
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