Why Mobile-Integrated Healthcare Matters

It's the foundation for a seamless continuum of care

by Zee Hussain, SVP – Finance, Healthcare & Industry Solutions, AT&T Business

With the emergence of 5G, and cloud-enabled medical devices and sophisticated personal electronics coming out every year, mobile-integrated healthcare is becoming the new standard for non-emergent medicine. A smart insulin pump lets a GP know their young patient is developing good habits for diabetes management. A connected sleep apnea device relays real-time breathing information for an at-home sleep study. An Apple Watch sends cardiac data to a clinician after a workout. This growing ecosystem is making life better for providers and patients alike.

John Nosta, president of NostaLabs and expert digital healthcare analyst, believes we can’t underestimate the importance of mobility for healthcare. Here’s how he explained it to me:

“The future can be defined by one simple word―DATA. Healthcare data, in particular, is expanding exponentially on three principle fronts that include variety, velocity, and volume. In today's world, it's less about a single focus of care, but the eclectic combination of data that can include the specialist, caregiver, primary care physician, advanced diagnostic imaging, telemedicine, and laboratory analysis, just to name a few. The mobility of these data is the linchpin for connecting ‘quality technology’ with ‘quality care.’ Mobility is no longer an option but an imperative to drive the data revolution and provide superior care for people around the corner and around the world.”

As Nosta says, mobile-integrated healthcare is the foundation for a seamless continuum of care. We’re approaching a future where healthcare is more accessible, more reliable and more effective. Here’s what that might look like from either side of the healthcare equation.

What does mobile-integrated healthcare mean for patients?

Mobile-integrated healthcare for patients is first and foremost about simplicity and ease of use. For example, telehealth solutions allow patients to schedule preventive appointments from their home, on their schedule. The ability to fill out patient questionnaires and confirm information on a smartphone app leads to better insights for their physician, who can then deliver more data-driven care. The entire process is simplified, with more control in the hands of patients who feel better about seeking help, and who are more likely to prioritize their health.

Preventative and proactive care gets a boost from mobile-integrated healthcare as well. Intuitive smartphone apps and access to on-demand insights from medical professionals can help patients track and manage medical conditions. With smartphone apps and wearables to track vital signs, doctors can also monitor patients and help them receive care for chronic conditions, without scheduling an in-office appointment. As a result, it’s easier to keep patients compliant with a proactive health care regimen, rather than waiting until a problem sends them to an ER or urgent care.

As 5G networks and devices roll out, patients will see new and expanding benefits from mobile-integrated care. The increased bandwidth, reduced latency, and high transfer rates of 5G will make it easier for patients to share medical data with providers, including high-resolution video. AR and VR applications could enhance remote care, too, as well as more and more intelligent Internet of Medical Things (IoMT devices).

In short, for patients, healthcare mobility means streamlined and seamless care that encourages timely and regular interactions with their healthcare providers, which can ultimately promote better patient outcomes.

What does mobile-integrated care mean for providers

On the provider side, clinicians gain efficiency and flexibility in when, where and how they treat patients. Telehealth can turn a 45-minute checkup into a 10-minute video chat, with no need to clean and prep exam rooms in between appointments. Providers can focus on briefer but more frequent check-ins with their patients, helping to promote health and wellness and stave off preventable illnesses.

I asked Rod Cruz, Healthcare GM for AT&T Business, what types of use cases he sees for integrating mobile devices into patient care. “For clinicians, the world of connected care is all about the growing web of healthcare IoT devices, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT),” he says. “It’s the home heart monitor a patient is hooked up to, a pulse oximeter device used by a nurse, or even a patient’s insulin reader. These medical devices are all becoming smarter, connecting to the cloud to relay real-time data. That data feeds into a secure centralized repository, where it’s accessed by processes, applications and other devices—wherever the clinician needs it.”

These technologies enable smarter tracking of patients and staff within the organization, to optimize resources and reduce errors. Streaming data replaces manual, error-prone data copying. Coordination between doctors and clinics ensures the right staff are delivering the right type of care to patients.

5G will bring in major improvements on the provider side, too. Medical imaging files are growing larger and larger with more comprehensive, higher-resolution scans, so 5G’s speed and bandwidth are crucial for keeping data moving (securely) through the healthcare system. 5G will also enable providers to offer a wide variety of services, from enhanced telehealth all the way to remote-assisted surgery.

In short, healthcare providers are turning to mobile-integrated care models for flexibility, agility and efficiency. Medicine is about delivering the best solution as efficiently as possible. When data is the driver of these solutions, mobile-integrated healthcare just makes sense.

Mobility matters for the future of healthcare

For most people, their next doctor’s appointment will be their first experience with telehealth. But it’s unlikely to be their last. Mobile-integrated healthcare is poised to change the way we think about healthcare in general: It’s not just something that happens infrequently, in a hospital or doctor’s office, when you’re sick. Healthcare can become an ongoing, continuous, oftentimes invisible process, supported by frequent check-ins with providers and monitoring through IoMT devices.

The not-too-distant future has us checking our vitals on smartwatches, taking diagnostics through our phones, and transferring data from patient to provider and back at 5G speeds. The technology to realize this vision is already here: It’s up to healthcare leaders to adopt and make good use of it.