Mobile health … mHealth … eHealth … wireless health … digital health. While the monikers are seemingly endless, one fact can’t be argued: It’s one of the fastest growing segments of healthcare today.

Yet the healthcare community and mHealth advocates – as well as the federal government – are having a hard time defining the industry and establishing its parameters. That point was made clear during a Tuesday afternoon panel discussion at the American Telemedicine Association’s 2012 Conference and Exposition in San Jose, Calif.

“There are a lot of definitions floating around,” said Don Jones, vice president of global strategy and market development for Qualcomm Life and the panel’s moderator. “Not all mobile health is wireless and not all wireless health is mobile. Maybe the user is mobile.”

The key, Jones said, may lie in connectivity – connecting physicians and patients to each other and to important data no matter where any of the three are located and by any number of secure means of communication.

Jones was joined on the panel by Chris Fickle, director of telemedicine business development for A&D Medical; Mark Vanderwerf, vice president and director of eHealth and OEM for Nonin; and Arthur Lane, director of mobile solutions development for Verizon.

Recent studies have pegged the market for mobile health apps at about $1.3 billion in 2012, but Jones pointed out that might be shortchanging the field. Mobile apps and mobile devices, he pointed out, can be used to drive decisions and compel other forms of commerce, possibly raising that estimate tenfold.

More importantly, the panelists said, the mHealth field, which has seen tremendous adoption from physicians, could be facing another surge as it sets its sights on the patients themselves.

“You’re going from products that are used by professionals to products that are used by people who are ill,” said Vanderwerf. The challenge, he said, then focuses on differentiating between products used to make clinical decisions to those which can be used by the ordinary consumer (the patient).

“We need to radically redefine how the value chain operates,” said Lane, who sees hospitals and payers both adopting patient-facing mHealth tools and apps to reach and manage their target populations. He referenced Aetna’s recent purchase of iTriage, and noted that providers will be assuming more risk through accountable care organizations and will want to push proper care decisions outside of the hospital’s walls.

“It will be imperative that we give them scalable, easy-to-use tools,” he said.

Fickle said these mobile tools will need ready and reliable access to data, and that data was be collected and stored in a secure and easy-to-access place – hence the value of the cloud. “Getting data into the cloud is really going to reduce the obstacles,” he said.

Vanderwerf also sounded a cautionary note. He pointed out that the medical app market is crowded and seeing a constant flood of new products – not all of them effective, and some of them perhaps even dangerous if used incorrectly by the consumer. The challenge for both physicians and patients, he said, lies in sorting through the chaff and finding and collecting the apps that do deliver value.

All these initiatives, the panelists said, will make that smartphone a very valuable piece of real estate.

“I think that you will have a Minute Clinic in your pocket in the future,” said Lane.

Source: Eric Wicklund, Editor, mHIMSS