Action to prevent these major chronic diseases should focus on controlling these and other key risk factors in a well-integrated manner. Improving chronic patients’ condition and lives will be the major challenge in the future as more and more patients develop chronic and lifestyle related diseases. Studies have consistently shown that when patients are more involved in their own healthcare, they are in many cases able to avoid severe lifestyle related chronic conditions. If they have developed a condition, a more efficient management of their chronic disease with the use of intelligent monitoring will improve patients’ lives and at the same time enable the providers to meet this challenge.
In the European public health sector, there is a growing awareness of the usefulness of eHealth to supporting health systems and services. With the decrease in the labour force over the coming years, there is an even more urgent need to make more eHealth services mobile in order to allow citizens with chronic diseases and disabilities stay longer in the labour markets, reduce the number of lost working days and generally support nomadic working patterns in a global marketplace.
eHealth has thus been on the European Union’s political agenda and among the priorities of the European Commission Information Society policy and research programmes for many years and mHealth is increasingly becoming part of mainstream healthcare priorities as well.
Standing at the crossroads of eHealth, mobile devices and wireless broadband networks, mHealth has found itself in the middle of an explosive growth that these sectors have experienced in the last few years and which is continuing strong, even in the midst of the global recession.
However, it is important to remember that mobile technologies are not objectives, but tools, that should be applied in ways to achieve local, national, and regional health objectives as well as contribute to improving the lives of individuals. For example, mHealth solutions have exceptional potential in addressing important public health challenges such as lifestyle management and chronic disease management.
Mobile Healthcare (or mHealth) is a term that refers to the provision of medical services through the use of portable devices with the capability to create, store, retrieve, and transmit data via mobile communications. In technical terms, small devices are used to monitor patient-related data and actively communicate with a central information system; in buildings, communication takes place either over a mobile telephony or fixed line network coupled with WiFi. In open spaces, communication takes place via terrestrial (GSM, GPRS, 3G, 4G, WiMax) communication networks or low-orbit satellite communication.
In recent years, mHealth has emerged as an important sub-segment of the field of electronic health (eHealth). While there is no widely agreed-to definition for these fields, the public health community has coalesced around these working definitions (UNF 2009):
- eHealth: Using information and communication technology (ICT) – such as computers, mobile phones, and satellite communications—for health services and information.
- mHealth: Using mobile communications – such as smart phones, mobile phones or PDA—for health services and information.
eHealth and mHealth are inextricably linked. Both are used to improve health outcomes and their technologies work in conjunction. While there are many stand-alone mHealth programs, it is important to note the opportunity mHealth presents for strengthening broader eHealth initiatives. For example, many eHealth initiatives involve digitizing patient records and creating an electronic backbone that will standardise access to patient data within a national system. A mHealth front-end solution allows patients to continuously access such backend systems, while at the same time being completely mobile. Other mHealth solutions can serve as the access point for entering patient data into national health information systems, and as remote information tools that provide information to healthcare clinics, home providers, and health workers in the field.