Wearables and health apps have become the latest craze, one which is only expected to pick up further momentum in 2015 as medical providers dive head first into the digital age of healthcare. By channeling the fountain of data collected and stored by these consumer-oriented “fashionable” devices, healthcare providers can tap into the portable health information, or electronic health record (EHR), when and where necessary instead of having to refer to outdated hand-written notes crammed in a now retro file.
Called the “future of personalised medicine,” experts surmise that one of the reasons why eHealth devices and wearables are so attractive to consumers is because they motivate us to be more active and supports behavioural change. For example, an app can be an effective tool in unleashing our competitive nature in outdoing our own previous record of how many steps we walked or how many calories we burnt the day before.
However, consumer-orientated wearables and apps are more than just gamification of health; through personalised functionality they enable users to see and understand their lifestyle patterns by monitoring general data like activity levels, calorie intake and blood pressure, to more specific information such as managing prescribed medication effectively, glucose level tracking for diabetics and even an overall overview of a person’s medical history. While there are 1000s of health apps available to download via iTunes and Google Play that are user-orientated, some do have value in enabling the continuum of care when used in conjunction with healthcare providers.
Locally, two top medical aid organisations, Discovery Health and Metropolitan Health, have each released their own specialised portable EHR to empower patients to take control of their own health. There are also a few notable local eHealth providers specialising in portable EHRs that are worth highlighting.
Discovery Health’s internally developed solution, HealthID, is “South Africa’s first EHR” that enables doctors to call up a patient’s medical history, EHRs, claims history, benefit information and even enables the writing of online prescriptions, all via an app.
The information can only be accessed by a doctor with the patient’s consent, which is required once-off per doctor to ensure confidentiality. “We designed HealthID as an app to facilitate doctor-patient communication and patient engagement. Doctors request consent from their patients to use the app to view the patient’s health record. That information serves as a medical timeline depicting the chronological order of claims, GP visits, lab test results, etc.,” said CEO of Discovery Health, Dr Jonathan Broomberg.
Since the app launched in May 2012, a half a million Discovery Health members have consented to its use by their doctors and other health professionals.
Following in the footsteps of Discovery Health, Metropolitan Health launched their own portable EHR to their clients in August 2014 with the goal of reducing wastage, enhancing the physician-patient interaction and ultimately enabling continuity of care.
Similar to HealthID, the Metropolitan Health EHR is also patient-driven and was designed around the patient’s journey characterised by moving between various healthcare providers that don’t always have access to the patient’s medical history or their latest test results. The EHR was developed with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act in mind to ensure confidentiality, and therefore grants a patient access to their EHR through a unique password that allows them to retrieve the information during a consultation with a doctor.
“By giving the patient control of who accesses their medical information, their EHR becomes portable and reduces the problems associated with the provider owning and managing the record – such as duplicate tests and delays in decision making and diagnoses,” said Executive Manager of HIV: Metropolitan Health Risk Management, Siraaj Adams.
Since the EHR’s launch last year, Metropolitan Health has reported high acceptance from patients and are now focused on coaching providers on how they can utilise the information to best serve the patient.
While more of a health management platform than a portable EHR, FOLUP empowers chronic patients to capture key data between consultations with their doctor and, in turn, allows the doctor to track and monitor the patient’s wellbeing.
Since its launch in South Africa two years ago, the uptake of FOLUP has been positive with over 5,000 patients already registered in the database. “FOLUP essentially acts like a digitised diary in that it provides the ability to capture the patient’s mood, record pain locations and blood pressure; it’s a simple way to store information that can later be presented back to their doctor,” said CEO of FOLUP, Simon Spurr.
The value of FOLUP is that it allows patients to engage in their own healthcare and create portable EHRs that are easily accessible.
Local start-up CenHealth has developed an EHR that puts the user’s health record into their hands by allowing them to store information from weight to allergies, as well as to keep a health diary of all their doctor appointments.
“CenHealth strives to move away from a paper-based system where prescriptions, lab results and scans are scattered across files, to where you can hold all your health information in a single, secure hub online,” said CEO of CenHealth, Joel Ugborogho.
While CenHealth is offering a freemium model where users can create a health record for free, they are required to pay a nominal monthly fee in order to access other features, such as information exchange with doctors.
According to CEO of Bestforu Holdings Ltd and the developer of Best4umed, Brian Bouwer, the mobile medical application software system has the ability to “link everyone and every segment in the medical industry together.”
“Best4umed will enable medical practitioners, health specialists, physicians, pharmacists, medical and emergency assistants, and patients to have immediate access to important medical information at any time, with the use of the fingerprint medical software,” said Bouwer.
It’ll be interesting to see how Best4umed develops, what the uptake will be and how it’ll influence future local eHealth initiatives.
This is just the beginning
Due to the recent explosion in popularity of mHealth, Google labeled 2014 as the “year of health and fitness apps.” According to an official report by research2guidance, there are over 100,000 apps dedicated to mHealth available for both Android and iOS, a figure which has doubled in the last two years. According to the same report, the global health and fitness mobile app market is worth about $4 billion, and is expected to reach $26 billion by 2017. This exponential growth coupled with the rapid acceptance of mHealth among the healthcare community as a means of improving the quality of healthcare indicates that further portable EHR innovation is guaranteed, especially through eHealth platforms such as Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit.
If 2014 is the year of health and fitness apps, then 2015 is bound to be the year of the wearables. A recent report from IDC indicates that vendors are expected to ship 45.7 million wearable devices in 2015, a 133.4% increase from the 19.6 million units delivered in 2014, and by 2019 that number will spike to 126 million. Therefore, with the launch of Microsoft Band in conjunction with their eHealth platform, Microsoft Health, to the hugely anticipated launch of Apple Watch this month, health is destined to become even more personalised and portable.
Despite the rapid uptake of wearables and development of portable EHRs, the question still remains: how will we bridge the gap between the abundance of data generated by wearables and apps and extracting accurate, reliable and usable information to build a complete patient record? Many are looking to Big Data for the answer while the rest of us will have to wait and see.