Like nearly everything before it, healthcare is turning to mobile. But unlike nearly everything before it, healthcare has long been viewed as a hands-on industry, one where interactions happen in person, allowing healthcare providers to use both their clinical knowledge and intuitive senses to treat the patients before them.

Despite healthcare’s hands-on history, Zebra’s “The Future of Healthcare: 2022 Hospital Vision Study” observes that the mobility trend has taken the healthcare industry by storm, noting that forward-thinking hospitals are already seeing the benefits. Nearly three-quarters of the survey’s respondents said mobile technology had resulted in higher-quality patient care, and more than half indicated that patient care also costs less when mobile technology plays a role.

But perhaps the biggest harbinger of what’s to come is patients’ reactions: A full 95 percent of patients said they were comfortable sharing health stats provided by wearables, and 77 percent thought the use of mobile devices in healthcare was a positive development. With this kind of support from the people who would have to use the technology in order to benefit from it, mobile tech has a definite opening to shape the future of healthcare.

What Needs to Happen Next

The beauty of mobile technology is that it changes quickly, enabling it to streamline processes, synthesize information, and provide real-time updates. The hitch is that healthcare has become increasingly bureaucratic in recent years. The time it takes to “work the system,” fill out the required paperwork, and jump through endless hoops makes the introduction of a quickly moving technology seem difficult at best and worthless at worst.

But with 95 percent of Americans owning a mobile phone — 77 percent of which are smartphones — the opportunity to incorporate mobile tech is one healthcare can’t pass up. The industry, which once relied on house calls, has never before had such instantaneous access to patients’ states of being or habits. Mobile phones have become instruments of accountability and preventive care.

To take advantage, however, the industry has to get out of its own way. Each provider needs to revisit its definition of healthcare and identify what mobile solutions would be most valuable — both for the provider and the patient. “Many companies find themselves pressured into an mHealth strategy because the competition is doing it, and the easier way to move forward is by developing an app,” explains TechCrunch’s Sunny Ahn. “Yet, often they either copy what others have done or completely replicate what they are currently doing online or in person.” Neither strategy is likely to deliver much value.

The second step is to realistically assess what patients will use. If a hospital has a large number of elderly patients who have been tech-resistant in the past, implementing a complex app isn’t likely to result in high conversion rates. Likewise, launching an app that only works with one type of wearable — without providing the wearables themselves or vouchers to purchase them at a discount — is a provider’s exercise in futility.

How Tech Is Meeting the Challenge

Taking these considerations into account, technology companies are working — independently and with healthcare and insurance providers — to meet the challenge of collecting data in a user-friendly way. Epharmix, a digital health startup based in the Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis, has developed SMS- and phone-reliant technology to connect underserved populations with healthcare providers. Its technology, focused on patient engagement and chronic disease management, addresses issues impacting patients with a wide range of conditions, from heart failure to depression.

Perhaps its most interesting — and most impactful — application of remote patient monitoring is its EpxSubstanceUse system. This opioid-focused product utilizes Epharmix’s evidence-based approach to product development, as well as text messaging, to help opioid-dependent patients fight addiction. Dozens of studies and clinical trials have been successfully completed with thousands of patients, in combination with Washington University School of Medicine, to underscore how patient-reported outcomes can play a role in combating addiction.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Hahnemann Hospital launched a pilot program that used mobile tech to cut down on the number of 30-day readmissions it was seeing among chronic heart failure patients. By using text messages and email to remind patients of upcoming follow-up appointments, the hospital was able to reduce its 30-day readmissions by 10 percent. Even patients who were ultimately readmitted went longer periods between discharge and readmission.

To streamline patient care across a hospital’s departments, PatientKeeper’s computerized physician order entry system comes with a mobile app that enables providers to do everything from order labs to secure radiology appointments for patients. All of the procedures and medications that have been ordered for a single patient are maintained within the app, eliminating the need to rebuild lists or complete new sets of data entry. Some hospitals have used the platform as a replacement for time-consuming phone orders.

Even tech behemoths like Apple have gotten into the mobile healthcare game. Apple’s ResearchKit was developed to help providers develop apps of their own and recruit subjects for trials and research; its CareKit followed to help people manage medical conditions through care plans carried out through the app. This includes monitoring their medication use and symptoms, empowering patients to track their own health as diligently as their providers do.

Tech’s bolstering of healthcare offers the promise of what Apple calls the “democratization of research and medicine,” and it also fuels hope for a future in which patients and providers are on the same page — or screen — more than ever. Mobile phones live in our hands these days, and it’s time we embraced them as the tools of our future health.

Frank Landman

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.