Regulators are still trying to figure out the blurred distinctions between apps and medical devices

Posted on October 7, 2010

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Certainly our friends across the pond are a bit farther down the road on integration of mobile into healthcare.

LONDON (MarketWatch) — At home. On the go. During a meeting. Take your pick. The good doctor gets around these days.

If you have diabetes, asthma or heart disease, there’s almost certainly an elegant smartphone interface at your disposal.

If you’re overweight or if it’s the scourge of meningitis you fear — or even if you simply don’t know where to look for judicious diagnostic advice and treatment — the wireless medical world is at hand.

Personal devices have, in fact, never been so personal, and developers, doctors, companies and health-care providers are all scrambling to figure out how to best harness the increasing convergence of the mobile and the medical.

Still, while consumer interest in the idea of mobile-health services, or mHealth, is growing, the industry itself is beset with a range of issues from privacy to regulation to standards and even to a common sense of where best to focus efforts.

Most in the industry agree that mHealth is first and foremost about chronic-disease management, but there is real divergence over how mobile phones fit within the fragile mHealth ecosystem, if at all.

On issues such as selection, security, platform, connectivity strategies and a whole host of other coordination-sensitive systems, consensus has yet to emerge — with respect to applications for consumers, but also more broadly for devices and software aimed at the professional health-care market.

“The mobile phone, like your wallet and keys, is the one thing you don’t leave home without,” said Brian Dolan, editor and co-founder of mobihealthnews.com, a web portal that tracks the wireless-medical world.

“The U.S. medical system is an overtaxed system and we need to extend the reach of health-care providers,” added Dolan. “The way to do this is to add connectivity to the patient, no matter where they might be. We need to take advantage of the technology people are already using today — the mobile phone.”

As smartphones move ever closer to PCs, one area where consumers are displaying an interest is in medical-related apps for mobile phones that can be purchased at online destinations such as Apple Inc.’s  App Store. But these new offerings are also leaving consumers in something of a never-never land when it comes to making informed decisions.

“There is a huge amount of interest in this area,” said Peter Bentley, creator of the iStethoscope, an app that transforms Apple’s iPhone into a stethoscope, thus permitting monitoring of the heartbeat in just about every conceivable setting (save for extremely noisy ones).

“But regulators are still trying to figure out the blurred distinctions between apps and medical devices,” said Bentley, a computer-science professor at University College London, and “the more established doctors may find the new technology somewhat baffling.”

Smartphones and tablets may not be ready to replace hospital devices just yet, but it’s safe to say that looking ahead, “the marketplace will be dramatically different,” said Joseph White, a U.S.-based medical doctor with an interest in mHealth issues.

“Bedside EKG, ultrasound, pulse oximetry, blood-pressure monitor, glucose monitor — doctors will eventually have access to these types of monitoring capabilities when they visit patients at home.”

For now, though, apps on “the consumer side that are genuinely finding adoption are fitness-related,” said Dolan.

There’s an App Store for that

Broadly speaking, mHealth consists of an array of overlapping technologies and initiatives encompassing computers, patient monitors, PDAs, automated voice-mail technologies and apps for mobile phones.

It spans the business-to-business space as well as the consumer market.

Apps, meanwhile, are essentially just software applications — and many of them fitness-related — that run on a variety of smartphones like the iPhone or Google’s Android, or tablets like Dell’s  Streak or Samsung’s Galaxy.

With the Siteminis mobile solution, one can do several data management functions in healthcare on the mobile web.

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Posted in: Mobile Health