Commission wants better use of mobiles within health

Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil, with mock iPad. Stirling, 2013. [Scottish Government/Flickr]

The European Commission on Thursday (10 April) launched a public consultation on mobile health or mHealth, asking Europeans to help find ways to improve health with the use of mobile devices. The consultation will run until 2 July 2014.

Mobile health covers medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets and other wireless devices. These also include lifestyle and wellbeing applications connected to medical devices and sensors.

The Commission says mobile health is an emerging part of eHealth, where information and communication technologies (ICT) are used to improve health products, services and processes.

Neelie Kroes, commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, said that mHealth will reduce costly visits to hospitals, help citizens take charge of their own health and wellbeing, and move towards prevention rather than cure. It is also a great opportunity for the booming app economy and for entrepreneurs.

“I personally use a sports-band on my wrist to measure how active I am from day to day, so I am a great supporter of mHealth already,” the commissioner said, adding that Europeans can help the region become a global leader in the area.

Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, mentioned that mHealth can empower citizens to manage their own health and stay healthy longer and trigger greater quality of care and comfort for patients.

“As such, exploring mHealth solutions can contribute to modern, efficient and sustainable health systems,” Borg stressed.

The Commission wants input and ideas on what should be done to solve several issues in mHealth, such as data protection and user trust, patient safety, contribution to high quality healthcare, and at what level (EU, national or regional). The EU’s executive is also interested in giving guidance to app developers via a staff working document that analyses the existing legal framework for lifestyle apps. 

Mobile health is a rapidly developing field which can improve the quality of healthcare and make it more efficient by supporting healthcare professionals in treating patients and easing continuity of care, according to the Commission.

Estimates show that the use of mobile devices could help healthcare professionals save up to 30% of their time spent on accessing and analysing information.

However, despite this potential, the uptake of mHealth remains limited in EU countries and healthcare authorities may need more evidence before they implement mHealth at a wider scale.

Other barriers include that a lack of compliance and transparency may prevent users from trusting apps and hinder the development of the market. A low level of knowledge among app developers of the legal requirements applicable to lifestyle and well-being apps might also cause problems.

  • 2 July: End of the Commission's public consultation.

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