Mobile technology could vastly improve access to health care services and lower costs, but policymakers aren’t taking the right steps to incorporate technology into care, a new report concludes.
Researchers at the Brookings Institution studied China and the United States — two countries that face similar challenges in reducing health care costs due to aging populations and are looking at mobile technology as part of the solution, said Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings.
Among the barriers to widespread use of mobile health technology in China and the United States is the fact that physicians don’t get reimbursed for using the technology to deliver care. Also, developers are unclear about the rules and regulations surrounding mobile health applications, which limits innovation.
“There’s a chicken-and-an-egg problem,” said West, who was also a coauthor of the report. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “doesn’t want to reimburse until there are demonstrable benefits, but it’s hard to demonstrate until it’s adopted,” he said. “And mobile health won’t be widely adopted until there’s reimbursement.”
Mobile health has the potential to dramatically impact the health care market in part because the technology has become widely available worldwide. The number of mobile Internet subscribers has skyrocketed from 2.3 billion in 2008 to 3.4 billion in 2013, and it’s expected to surpass 3.9 billion by 2017, according to a GSMA Wireless Intelligence report.
Among the benefits of mobile health listed in the report are that it can provide rural populations with access to urban specialists, reduce inefficiencies and errors in prescriptions and medical testing, help physicians remotely monitor patients with chronic illnesses, and remind patients about appointments and taking their medicine.
Research about how mobile technology improves patient outcomes is ongoing, West said, but early findings look promising.
“What people are finding is that patients pay closer attention to their health when they’re wearing a device knowing that their vital signs are going directly to their doctor,” West said. “You get a preventive health benefit, and doctors get real-time data to make proactive decisions about treatment.”
Increased technology use, the researchers say, will also empower policymakers to make better decisions about health care — what works and what improves costs — by giving them more information about population health.
“We think there are tremendous opportunities in mobile health in terms of improving the patient experience and controlling costs,” West said. “When you get people using mobile health, it creates the possibility of doing data analysis that helps us answer basic questions about health care.”
China and the U.S. are two countries where health costs have spiraled out of control, underlining the need for innovation to rein in spending. Annual health spending in China has grown from 4.55 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2006 to 5.15 percent in 2011, according to government figures. Health spending in the United States is projected to rise from 16.2 percent of GDP in 2006 to 19.6 percent in 2021, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
Aging populations account for much of the growth. By 2050, 20 percent of the U.S. population and 33.3 percent of China’s population will be over 65, researchers anticipate.
The rise in the two nations’ elderly populations has been accompanied by a rise in the number of people suffering from chronic illnesses. Some 260 million people are diagnosed with chronic illnesses in China each year, according to government figures, accounting for 70 percent of overall costs. The U.S. also struggles with the cost of chronic care, amounting to about 75 percent of overall health care costs, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both countries also wrestle with disparities in access to care, especially with rural and low-income populations. Rural areas have fewer medical personnel per capita, a problem that could easily be solved by allowing rural patients access to urban doctors through video conferencing and other remote monitoring technologies, the report says.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."