Mobile Health IT Solutions for Healthier Aging

A report entitled "Using Mobile Technologies for Healthier Aging" was released in March 2013. The report, written by Ada Kwan, was co-sponsored by the mHealth Alliance , United Nations Foundation, and Pfizer. The stated objective of this report was to provide momentum and spur further conversation on ways mobile technologies can help people age better and remain in reasonably good health.

The mobile phone revolution is underway.  According to the report, we are seeing  the exponential spread and penetration of mobile phone coverage and access around the world, even in remote areas. This year, mobile phone subscriptions  have surpassed 6 billion, on track to equal the world’s population of approximately 7 billion.

In a 2011 survey of older people in 36 countries, 61% of older people had access to a mobile phones. This would indicate a unique opportunity to develop and capitalize on options that could help accelerate innovative mobile health (mHealth) solutions that would add healthy and productive years to many people's lives, in addition to addressing many other health challenges and issues related to caring for an aging population.

Even mobile phones with less sophisticated features can provide valuable services aimed at age-related issues voice and text-based mHealth applications. These include apps for patient education, data collection, and two-way communication between patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. As smartphones continue to further dominate the market, more sophisticated and innovative solutions will emerge allowing for remote diagnostics and monitoring, access to expert consultation services, and interaction with electronic health record (EHR) and personal health record (PHR) systems.

Smartphones are the platform of the future (or at least the next decade), and open source advocates are proud of the fact that many of the smartphones and mobile apps at the top of the pyramid are built around source code that is protected by open source licenses. Open source code is everywhere!    -  Read InfoWorld article

To help confront challenges of caring for the needs of an aging population, according to the report, the mHealth industry is developing new projects and applications aimed at:

  • Increasing physical, social, and cognitive stimulation
  • Improving health and living conditions, particularly for women who have longer life expectancies
  • Increasing efficiency and coordination among caregivers through interaction with electronic health record (EHR) systems
  • Improving health and living conditions for grandparents who may be raising grandchildren by providing a range of support services
  • Expanding access to emergency services, e.g. emergency call centers, ambulance services, etc.
  • Providing at-home support and health services to older individuals by digitally connecting them with their caregivers
  • Expanding health services to older individuals in remote or rural areas through teleconsultation or other online healthcare services

To better customize mobile phones and applications for older users, more research and innovation will be needed in design and manufacturing of smartphones and apps with unique features that meet their needs.  Also, it's important to remember that cost is the biggest barrier to adoption of mobile phones by older people.

Any significant movement to advance mHealth targeting the needs and opportunities of aging populations has yet to materialize.  Although there are promising examples of mHealth solutions that are beginning to meet some of the key needs of older populations. All stakeholders - healthcare provider organizations, project implementers, vendors of health IT solutions, policymakers, and consumers - must also work better together to plan and address the many challenges and opportunities that still exist.

Around three in 10 mobile-phone users in the U.S. use their phone to look up health or medical information, and 19% of those who own a smartphone have at least one health app on their phone, according to a new 2012 survey.  -  Modern Healthcare


The following are selected organizations working to improve health care and services for the elderly that readers might want to explore further:

Check out the following are selected 'open source' and commercial mHealth apps:

* Also, see Open Health News (OHNews) links to news and information about geriatrics & information systems.