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The health industry has increasingly emphasized convenience these past few decades, with methods developed to seamlessly integrate health management into our daily routines. Gone are the days in which people needed an entire day off just to see the doctor. This same focus has taken on extra meaning as of late, with the pandemic creating a need for treatment options that work around the constraints of social distancing. As a result, a host of digital-based solutions began appearing, providing remote solutions for people’s medical requirements, particularly diabetes patients who need regular appointments with their doctors. But one question remains: Will these services retain their appeal once we’ve returned to our “new normal?”

For obvious reasons, many of the applications designed specifically for virus management, such as contact tracing apps, chiefly among them Apple and Google’s joint Bluetooth-based effort, will significantly lose their appeal once pandemic guidelines have been relaxed. Some apps, however, designed originally with social distancing in mind, will have gained a much more permanent foothold in the industry. For instance, remote skincare applications have become increasingly popular, helping patients keep track of their skin health, letting users send pictures of any issues they might have to be assessed by a professional. 

These sorts of remote treatments utilize the fledgling advantages of telemedicine, using imaging to look at lesions, for instance, so the doctor can tell patients whether they should be worried. One of the most significant obstacles to these types of remote medical solutions is that people tend to be attracted to what’s familiar to them, and in terms of health, going to the doctor in person has traditionally been the most sensible option. But the perception of, and familiarity with, remote solutions will have taken a huge leap forward during the pandemic. Many patients who took the necessary steps but would not have otherwise adapted their habits, will have now been exposed to telemedicine solutions, and in turn, embraced them.

Many of today’s remote medical solutions were created in response to social distancing, but while the situation has helped these apps attract previously hesitant users, they also provide tangible medical solutions beyond social distancing. The conception of these remote solutions is based around a much wider aim of making monitoring health more in-tune with a busy life. While unable to perform medical procedures and appropriately utilize other professionals, remote medical solutions can perform selected physical examinations; support clinical decision making and management; assist in urgent, long-term, disease-specific care; and promote health best practices. Nevertheless, the development of mobile technologies, such as AI and machine learning, is anticipated to play an important role in improving Mobile Health apps’ capacity to perform remote medical tasks.

Generally, recognition of mobile devices as an avenue for assisting our daily lives has also steadily emerged. Smartphone app subscriptions have risen consistently over the years, estimated to reach 6.1 billion in 2020. A Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM) study, conducted in the U.S, investigated the use of mobile devices for health purposes among patients in primary care. The results showed that 90.1 percent of outpatients owned mobile phones, 55.3 percent of patients used smartphones, and 38.5 percent of patients (69.5 percent of smartphone owners) used Mobile Health applications. Among all patients in this study, 35.5 percent sought health information from their smartphones, 22.0 percent accessed a health app, and 20.8 percent tracked or managed health conditions via mobile devices. Mobile solutions were already beginning to gain a foothold in our daily lives long before the pandemic took hold.

The long-term integration of mobile health solutions has been further consolidated with facilitations enabled through legislative measures, state policy changes during the onset of the pandemic have eased the means to which regular patients receive remote care. Prior to the social distancing, medical insurance companies only covered telehealth on a limited basis, but under new waivers issued by the government to loosen restrictions and expand telehealth assistance, Medicare now makes payment for telehealth services furnished to patients in broader circumstances. A range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers are now able to offer telehealth to their patients. This will serve to propel the normalization of virtual care into managing our daily lives. Without these institutional measures, the long-term future of virtual care would have been considerably uncertain. 

A host of medical conditions have long required an upgrade of convenience, with many just needing entrepreneurial ingenuity to facilitate an app. A 2020 BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making report assessing the future of medical apps identified 12 main General Practitioner (GP) tasks, an action relating to doctor-patient interaction performed by a GP during clinical consultation. These tasks covered diagnosing diseases, making appointments, keeping medical records, and supporting clinical decision-making. Out of the 12, the report identified nine clinical tasks that could currently be replaced by mobile health apps. 

For the time being, mobile solutions remain essentially designated to tasks that hold more basic standards of functional approval. Some parts of society, particularly the older generation, remain flummoxed by the idea of managing their personal health through a pocket-sized device. So It may be a long time before your family doctor becomes obsolete; remote procedures, for instance, are off the table for now. But with mobile technologies constantly evolving and adopting new capabilities every day, we can expect a host of creative health solutions to materialize through apps. 

Our social distancing reality will have only galvanized the need for an alternative to visiting the doctor, emboldening both companies and individuals to find creative solutions. Familiar conditions that require regular monitoring can benefit most from these remote solutions—it’s in these kinds of conditions that the Mobile Health industry will find its most immediate permanent home. It’s become increasingly apparent that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for mobile solutions to become the go-to for regulating familiar manageable conditions. With developing technologies, shifting mindsets, and a constant need for pragmatic improvement, remote medical solutions will become a much more visible and permanent member of our post-pandemic reality.

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