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How mHealth (Mobile Health) Is Improving Maternal And Child Health Outcomes

Rohit MA, Cofounder and Managing Director, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals

Rohit MA is focused in the core areas of Cloudnine Group of Hospitals where he makes strategies and plans. He is responsible for digital initiatives, and employee engagement

Over the past few years, we’ve seen mobile apps, or mHealth apps, begin to solve some of the problems that are ailing healthcare. mHealth or simply put mobile communications technology to provide healthcare services whether for tracking patient data, enhancing patient education, or providing diagnostic treatment has paved the way for better doctor-patient communication, better data management, improved patient monitoring, and reduced hospital admissions. There were days when patients were confined to wait in a long queue in the waiting rooms. However as the time has progressed, thanks to the revolution of mobile apps in the healthcare industry. Compared to other forms of communication available, mobile phones are always present.

At a time, when social distancing is among the major measures used to fight COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth is stepping-up as a key technology for safe and efficient communications. The World Health Organization mentioned telemedicine among essential services in “Strengthening the Health Systems Response to COVID-19” policy. In order to assure steady and quick medical services available to its customers at Cloud nine we also launched tele-consultation services with doctors in response to the growing public health concerns caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This value added health service is available on mobile phones through “It’s our Baby” app which has currently 100k users. This will include doctor consultations, electronic prescriptions and electronic medical certificates.

Data is the New Money
The proliferation of different technologies has paved the way for the widespread use of mobile health (mHealth) devices. This in turn generates a large amount of data, which is essentially big data that can be used for various purposes. In recent years, the adoption of wearable technology, biosensors and mHealth has increase the amount of biological data being captured. In a clinical setting, these data includes ones that come from electronic patient records outcomes (ePRO), electronic health records (EHR) and various other software sources. It is estimated that there are over 10.7 billion objects and devices connected to the internet today. That number is expected to grow to 50 billion by 2020. Real business value often comes from combining these Big Data ‘feeds’ with ‘traditional’ (relational) data such as patient records, medical history, location data, and medication management to generate new insights, decisions and actions.

Today, healthcare providers are using mobile health technologies to access clinical information, collaborate with teams, communicate with patients and peers, monitor patients in real-time and provide health care remotely. At the same time, patients are using mobile health technologies to track their own health, access their medical records and communicate with their healthcare providers.

In maternal and child health specifically, mobile technology has made it so much easier for women to manage their pregnancies. Expecting couple are millennial customers and are already accustomed to a digital medium in virtually every aspect of their life. Technology is something that touches customer's life and every single aspect during their nine month journey. Healthcare should not be something which is non-digitized in the journey for this millennial customer. There are a host of applications that allow women to track their ovulation cycles, track their baby’s growth milestones, calculate due dates, set appointment reminders, receive health tips and access information on nearly all aspects of pregnancy and child birth like nutrition, prenatal and postnatal classes, medications and breastfeeding, to name a few. There are also apps through which you can directly send a message to a doctor or a pregnancy expert and have your queries addressed without having to physically go and see your provider.

Mobile and internet penetration is burgeoning in India and it’s important to understand that healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries

mHealth has also made it possible to reach vulnerable women living in inaccessible and under served areas who were earlier difficult to reach. It is a simple, lowcost solution to deliver important health messages, evaluate and monitor quality of services provided at the primary healthcare level and improve reporting mechanisms. This is especially important in a country like India where maternal, newborn and child mortality is so high. Frontline workers (FLWs) like ASHAs, Anganwadi workers and auxiliary nurse midwives are being trained to use mHealth to monitor the nutritional status of women and children like tracking whether mothers are taking their iron and folic acid tablets and monitoring their weight especially during pregnancy.

While mHealth is improving outcomes across medical specialties, it also poses certain concerns we need to be careful about. From a provider perspective, protecting patient privacy becomes more difficult with mobile technologies. Several apps allow users to post information anonymously and not all the information out there is credible or factually correct. There exists a risk of users self-diagnosing, self-medicating, overlooking symptoms or panicking over minor symptoms, all of which can be harmful and even fatal. To protect themselves, app users must not rely solely on the information being provided on mobile apps and must consult with their healthcare providers before starting on a treatment regime or making any changes to their existing regime.

Mobile and internet penetration is burgeoning in India and it’s important to understand that healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries. According to WHO’s global survey on eHealth, in the South East Asian region, the top four barriers to mHealth implementation were lack of eHealth policies and legislation, lack of knowledge concerning the possible applications of mHealth, lack of technical expertise and high operating costs.

Today, patients are also increasingly involved in the care cycle and since almost everyone uses a mobile phone, mHealth has great prospects of user adoption. Providers need to focus on retaining the sanctity of data, making apps user-friendly and ensuring interoperability of mHealth apps. Over and above this, they must follow the guidelines set by regulatory authorities. Once these provisions are in place, mobile health can enhance the performance of healthcare operations, multiplying the benefits to providers and improving patient engagement. Mobile health will advance through creating country based eHealth strategies that incorporate it into the existing eHealth domain. Policies need to be complemented by standards, architectures, and solid partnerships to help pilot mHealth initiatives mature and realize their full potential – utilizing mobile and wireless technologies to improve health and well-being.

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