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Mobile and the cloud: The two-pronged future of mHealth

By Evan Wade / December 2, 2013

Of all the issues an underdeveloped infrastructure can cause, slow dissemination of data is perhaps the most frustrating and solvable. When it comes to a populace’s overall health and safety, a lack of timely access to information is a particularly critical issue. One company, Ashalytics, aims to fix that by providing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others with a quick way to share and analyze data during crises.

Tracking the problem

Ashalytics has lofty ambitions for its Software as a Service (SaaS), and it all begins with the Earth’s most valuable resource, water. According to their profile site:

“The mobile platform will initially track two types of data concerning water systems: (1) hardware metrics (e.g., the arsenic level of the water, whether the water quality meets national and international standards, if the system provides enough water for target population) and (2) software metrics in relation to user access to the system (socioeconomic status of users, time of day water system has highest usage, distance users travel to access system).”

The latter almost sounds like marketing data, but the info serves a much more important purpose. “Armed with timely and actionable data, engineers and public health practitioners are better equipped to fix broken water systems, educate the populace, and deliver cleaner water faster,” claims Ashalytics.

In the future, Ashalytics (and similar services) could prove even more useful. As with almost any mobile solution, the unprecedented portability and flexibility could prove huge for organizations serving remote areas. Unlike landline-based infrastructures, mobile communications are relatively easy and inexpensive to set up, making cellular data the preferred (and sometimes only) way for people to talk over long distances.

Throw in so-called “cell-on-wheels” setups, many of which are designed to facilitate communication from remote areas and disaster sites, and you have an efficient way for organizations to provide creative solutions all over the world. The cloud plays a similarly large role in the future of mHealth.

The marriage of data clouds and mobile devices allow agents observing or assisting with crises to transmit, access and share data with fellow do-gooders anywhere on the globe, giving everyone from home-based offices to media outlets up-to-the-minute information on the situation. Lack of infrastructure will no longer hinder aid to Third World countries, disaster areas or even our own backyard.

The crowd and the cloud

Though professionals will undoubtedly make great use of mobile and cloud services as they become available, the people they’re helping will play an equally important role. For example, Ashalytics replaces paper surveys with a digital format that makes it easier and faster for residents of water-deficient areas to give researchers updates on their health and environmental conditions. The result? Communities make the transition from remote and underserved to equipped and well-informed.

In time, many of the processes could be automated, with cloud-based analytical software immediately interpreting the responses. If emergencies arise, everyone from on-site supervisors to repair engineers could be alerted via a quick SMS or push message, enabling everybody involved to respond more quickly than they would if they were still using traditional lines of communication.

Don’t forget about the First World

You don’t have to live in a crisis zone to benefit from the cloud or other mHealth services. Patients, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, administrators and many others in the healthcare chain, could see positive changes in the near future thanks to advancements in remote communications.

The Proteus ingestible sensor serves as a great example of mobile technology working in tandem with modern medicine. The device’s ability to monitor the ingestion and effectiveness of medications among patients with complex healthcare regimens could empower every individual in the healthcare process with the data it provides.

Doctors could view updates on individual patients, while researchers could measure drug efficacy on millions of people at a time. Even concerned family members could monitor their relatives’ overall health from across the country or world. And that’s just the beginning.

As connections become faster and smart hardware becomes more powerful, a growing number of tasks could be relegated to mobile-based services. This could prove particularly helpful for recipients of costly home-health visits. Every interaction mobile can replace means fewer dollars the patient—or their insurance provider—has to spend.

Building an mHealth service worth using

As mHealth continues to grow into its own, successful programs seem to follow one of two basic philosophies: flexibility or niche service. The former largely revolves around data collection and analysis. Instead of prescribing a solution, these services give organizations the insight needed to solve their own problems.

The combination of statistical analysis with instant communication and inexpensive, powerful hardware will likely continue as time goes on, especially considering the explosive growth of mobile data as compared to wired solutions. Whether solving a specific niche problem or conquering a global concern, cloud-based mHealth services are guaranteed to become a crucial part of the treatment process.

While many services in this industry will be analytical in nature, other products/solutions utilizing the cloud will likely arise as businesses meet new needs. Either way, the ability to monitor and communicate with patients of all sorts without the need for face-to-face interaction could have a huge impact on nearly every aspect of medical care.

mHealth: The evolution of health care

For all the change it’s already brought, mobile data is still very much in its early stages. The same could be said for cloud-based services. That means mHealth has a lot of room to grow, and more world changes are undoubtedly waiting to be discovered.

What will they look like? It could take the form of a user-friendly survey, a microscopic ingestible sensor or even a vital-sign scanner that resembles something you’d find on the Starship Enterprise. It’s hard to say at the moment, but communication and accuracy of analysis can always be improved when it comes to patient care. In that regard, it’s easy to see how mobile devices and the cloud will revolutionize health care even more than they already have, no matter what needs may arise in the future.

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