mHealth: It's time to 'grab on'

Patricia AbbottPatricia Abbott

IT nurse conducts research to give patients 'more skin in the game'

Mobile health is one of the more transformative developments in healthcare, according to Patricia Abbott, associate professor of nursing at the University of Michigan, School of Nursing, Division of Nursing Business and Health Systems. "The real winners will be the ones who grab on in the front end, and don't wait," she says.

The future of mHealth will be one in which, "in a very short period of time, we’ll look back and we won’t believe we didn't have it." The speed at which mHealth is becoming mainstream "goes hand in hand with the way technology is changing and the way people are thinking,” Abbott says. “People who have grown up with computers fundamentally think differently."

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Abbott strongly believes mHealth is about "liberating the data" – making maintenance of health something irrelevant to time and place. She also predicts that wearable technology is going to become a way of life.

Abbott likens the advent of mHealth to Karios, the Greek god of the opportune moment. "He is a fast-moving entity. You are only able to grab onto him when he’s coming toward you. If you miss the opportunity, you miss it; it will be hard to catch him."

"Mobile technology is like that," she says. "We're at the opportune moment; it’s here and now."

Abbott recently conducted research in some of Baltimore's economically challenged neighborhoods, using mobile devices to increase the level of care given to patients with chronic disease. She believes it will be a very short time until mobile healthcare will be used on a regular basis.

Abbott’s research involved using 4G wireless Internet access donated by Clear, because cable companies were not serving the neighborhoods in which she was conducting the study. Diabetes patients, guided by Google Intel Health Guides, gathered their health data, including their weight, blood sugar and blood pressure. Abbott and her research colleagues were able to use this information to help educate the patients on how to take better care of themselves. Patients were given a personal health record, and were able to monitor trends in their health data.

"It was about information liberation; taking the data to the patients," she said. "It gave the patients skin in the game. When people could see their own data, it meant more to them. They were able to take responsibility for the part they play in their own care."

[See also: FDA give OK to first telemedicine robot]