by Sarah Iqbal
The mHealth industry has been making a strong case for its ability to optimize clinical trials and improve engagement with patients. This time last year the Mobile Health in Clinical Trials Survey Report showed that while 80% of respondents believe the industry’s use of mHealth technology is still in its infancy, 60% consider it to be very important. Let’s recap on where we are and the efforts needed to progress in the coming year.
Where are we in the mHealth industry now?
Innovative use of mobile health information and sensing technologies has been integrated in various clinical studies to reduce cost and improve research outcomes. These technologies can support continuous health monitoring at both the individual and population level, streamline clinical trial processes, engage patients to be more responsive in clinical research and provide on-demand interventions in ways previously unimaginable. In addition, mHealth is most useful when it comes to improving data quality and patient trial adherence through gamification.
Mobile technology in clinical trials promotes a fast, efficient way to align patients’ needs with the study objectives. Mobile apps are being created for connecting every patient with a smartphone to trial information, participation opportunities, and tracking and monitoring capabilities. Mobile apps connect participants easily to electronic data capture and clinical trial management systems, as well as imaging and reference sites. Studies show that this extreme connectivity can improve participant compliance and overall patient outcomes.
The challenges of implementing mHealth
While mHealth holds promise in changing the way clinical trials are performed, developers and regulators must address several challenges before this technology can be fully adopted. The challenges that have always circled the mHealth industry remain true today:
- - Privacy & security: Despite its promise, research in mHealth has progressed much more slowly than developments in other industries. One reason is that issues of privacy and security remain an ongoing concern for researchers conducting mHealth studies. Not only is the sensitivity of the data an issue, but also the amount that can be collected using mobile devices. There has been a societal trend over the past few decades to accept the collection of person-level data for public good, such as the use of community-wide video surveillance for purposes of public safety.
- - Integration and interoperability: Interoperability is the ability to create end-to-end solutions by interconnecting components and systems from multiple vendors forming a network. It is a critical step in supporting the broad commercial adoption of mobile health. However, the adoption of interoperability standards has been inconsistent due to the entrenched business interests of vendors offering closed end-to-end solutions.
We're seeing a mixed approach in the adoption of standards and application programming interfaces (APIs). Some successful mHealth apps provide open or semi-open APIs allowing software to communicate with each other across a dozen other devices and apps. Others maintain the status quo of closed systems—despite the many benefits it offers to providers and payers. In the end, interoperability across diverse systems and vendors is essential to create truly scalable mHealth solutions.
- - UX/UI mHealth software: To get the most out of the technology of today and of the future, user experience & interface design is going to play a key role and needs to be designed around the patient and the clinician participating in the study. The user experience for both the doctor and the patient are obvious areas of improvement, as well as for the CRO – we need to improve the experience at each touchpoint of the flow. The healthcare system of the future is patient-centric, and it is therefore crucial to have the experience of the patient in mind.
- - Patient compliance/data integrity: It can be a challenge to get the patient to comply to, for example, adopt good practices in capturing data while participating in a study. Innovative ways to encourage positive behavior change through mHealth apps and gamification need to be explored to encourage patients to comply with clinical processes.
mHealth in 2017mHealth holds a lot of promise when it comes to optimizing clinical trials. The capabilities constitute a new paradigm for evidence generation in health research, promising, perhaps more than any previous wave of innovations in health technologies. However, as we enter 2017, we need to accelerate efforts to address these challenges to grow the mHealth industry quicker.
Sarah Iqbal is a business scientist with a background in biopharmaceuticals and business entrepreneurship. She is currently the Head of Digital Life Sciences at Biotaware Ltd, a connected health company with expertise in mobile app design and development, wearables integration and cloud server tech in clinical trials and fitness and lifestyle industry.