Leanne West: The Future Is Bright for mHealth
Posted Jun 25, 2013 | Atlanta, GA
The term ‘mHealth’ has gained traction recently as more and more people pay attention to the intersection between mobile technology and the healthcare sector. Various surveys estimate that there are about 40,000 to 75,000 health-related apps offered online, and a study by a mobile marketing body projected that mHealth would become a $26 billion industry by 2017.
For the past few years, Georgia Tech’s Landmarc Research Group has researched the development and deployment of mHealth systems, in anticipation of the time when such applications become standard. As director Leanne West explains, “I personally believe that’s truly going to be the way we’re going to monitor health in the future, in addition to going to doctor’s offices.”
To this end, Landmarc has helped develop various applications in the space. One of the most recent ones came about when the group noticed an emerging trend in the market.
“A lot of the companies we’d been talking to had patient portals and doctor portals,” notes West, “but there’s another large component of a patient health, and that’s the caregiver.”
With advice from health professionals, the group designed a caregiver app, iCare4U. The app monitors patient daily medical measurements and keeps track of vital stats over time. Caregivers are able to call the patient, doctor, or other designated contacts. The group is currently in discussions with a company about licensing the app for use.
“One of the things they liked,” says West, referring to testers, “is that we kept [the interface] very simple, because the whole idea is to make the life of the caregiver more simple, not make it more complicated. Just giving them real basic information to let them know what’s going on.”
The Landmarc Research Group is also involved with other mHealth applications such as the iTrem, a tool to track Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and CellScope Oto, which turns the smartphone into an otoscope that can take high quality photos and transmit them to a medical professional.
The sort of enhanced diagnostic care demonstrated by apps like iCare4u and the remotoscope is the beginning of more individualized health care, and points towards the next frontier for the Landmarc Group: home health monitoring.
“I think as the home health sensors become more and more prevalent smartphone applications [can] manage the data, collect data from sensors, and send it off to some central database or monitoring system,” where doctors can examine it, she says.
Skeptics might contend that this runs the risk of drowning doctors in a deluge of data, but West counters the idea by noting that such data is likely to help doctors make more informed decisions about their patient. Besides, she adds, if one includes doctors in the beginning of design, then “you are going to create something that they would be willing to use.”
Quickwins, a seed funding program coordinated by West, represents another face of the partnership between doctors and engineers. The program, a collaboration between Georgia Tech and Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, enables doctors to partner with Georgia Tech researchers on developing solutions to health problems.
“We call it Quickwins,” explains West, “because we want [these] to be a problem that can be solved in 18 months. From concept to [having tools] in-the hands of doctors and being used in 18 months.”
As a result of this and other efforts, she notes, they have “several things... out in proposal right now. We’re using text messaging to either educate a patient or help them remember to do something, to get info from them so you can monitor their project, so one-on one patient engagement. One thing we’d really like to do is to develop a game for kids with pediatric cancer to prepare for radiation treatments.”
West believes that the future is bright for mHealth and home health monitoring, and that these developments will enable a more holistic approach to healthcare.
“I’m excited about predictive diagnostics,” she says. “As we move forward as a society people have all this information about themselves, so they can create their own personal baselines - you’re not just falling into a range of the literature that may not really be your personal [range]. - really understanding the individual. Once you look at the data from all of these individuals, what then can you learn about that individual that can pre-empt some acute situations?
“That predictive capability that will come about once data starts being collected on a grander scale, that’s pretty exciting.”