Modern mobile networks are ubiquitous and accessible virtually everywhere, from remote villages in Africa to deep inside warehouses and hospitals. This universal wireless coverage, combined with new cost-effective and simplified technology, is bringing about some amazing innovations and the medical industry is catching on. Many professional mobile health solutions, commonly known as mHealth, leverage Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology and mobile networks to improve diagnosis, treatment, and patient outcomes while simultaneously containing healthcare costs. Healthcare providers are realizing the power of mHealth to help solve the challenge of managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or treating heart disease and obesity, which top the list of health threats impacting the greatest number of people and contributing to the high cost of modern healthcare worldwide. Projected to grow 61 percent and reach $26 billion globally by the end of 2017, according to InformationWeek, the mHealth industry is thriving and providing solutions for identifying, managing, and treating disease as well as improving preventive care and health education.
mHealth and M2M Defined
mHealth solutions enhance communication between patients, caregivers, and physicians to improve diagnosis, treatment protocols, and results. They can also enable remote treatment and crisis interventions in the case of emergencies. M2M technology is at the heart of professional mHealth solutions providing reliable, secure connectivity for medical equipment and devices. In addition, relatively new cloud-based M2M Application Enablement Platforms connect devices and data to backend healthcare IT systems. There are a variety of technologies that can be leveraged to enable connectivity including wired line, WiFi, LAN, Bluetooth, RFID, and others. In mHealth solutions, mobile network wireless connectivity provides ubiquity, ease-of-use, anytime-anywhere accessibility, mobility, virtually unlimited communications range, and inherent security. In addition, M2M enables pre-configured devices with integrated wireless modules that work out of the box with little set-up effort and no need for pairing with mobile devices or punching in WiFi keys. (See Figure 1) M2M solutions establish an always-on connection to the mobile network on their own.
mHealth Solutions: Optimizing Healthcare in Real Time
mHealth solutions can be used for a variety of purposes and span a wide range of use cases. For instance, “smart” pillboxes track medication intake and send reminders to patients via text message, phone call, or e-mail. (See Figure 2) They automatically order prescription refills, send alerts when medication is missed, and update care teams and healthcare providers with historical data on patient compliance. Wearable solutions such as M2M-enabled mobile Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) help monitor and keep track of elderly and chronic disease patients while providing an additional communication channel that improves independence and peace of mind for users and their loved ones.
Smart glucometers can automatically send blood glucose information to caregivers who are empowered to respond with tips and coaching in a timely fashion to help bring blood sugar levels back to a normal range. mHealth hubs collect data from a variety of medical devices that measure vital signs—blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, glucose levels, temperature, weight, and respiration—and seamlessly send it all to cloud-based platforms where the data is processed and transformed into standardized, actionable intelligence. Caregivers and consulting physicians can log on to a secure web interface anytime and anywhere to monitor a patient’s status and immediately react in case of emergency— no matter if the patient is at home, traveling, or anywhere in the course of daily life.
Keys to Success
Recent innovations including simplified, all-in-one development tools such as the Cinterion Concept Board and innovative embedded Java application platforms are lowering the barriers for medical device developers to successfully enter the M2M world for the first time. However, for new integrators, implementing mHealth solutions is often more complex than anticipated. Understanding the critical technology bricks and considering the following seven keys to success will help ease development, speed time to market, and, ultimately, improve ROI. (See Figure 3) Seven keys to success are detailed below.
One: Consider Components and Connectivity
Cellular-based mHealth devices rely on two essential components for connectivity: M2M Modules, which provide pre-certified wireless connection in stable form factors; and Machine Identification Modules (MIMs), which securely enable access to mobile networks, encrypt communications, and facilitate native device management. M2M modules are available for a variety of wireless standards including CDMA, 2G, 3G, HSPA, and 4G/LTE. Offered in a variety of different form factors with varying capabilities, certifications, and features, they are optimized for relevant regional target markets.
At the beginning of design, careful consideration must be given to determine the features set required across the entire product lifespan, which is up to 10 years for M2M solutions. Requirements must be matched with a price point that makes sense for the business case. For instance, to design a product that communicates small data bits over European wireless networks, a cost effective 2G or 3G GSM module should be considered.
However, the decision becomes more complex when you intend to introduce a product in one region and expand to other world regions over time. Be sure to select components that support forward evolution through footprint compatibility to eliminate the need for re-designs as technology needs change. A strong technology partner with experience and expertise in your particular vertical market can provide consulting and help navigate the complex M2M component decision tree.