Mobile Health (mHealth) Language Considerations

by | Dec 8, 2022 | Language, Localisation

The Rise of Digital Health

Technology is one of the main drivers of the healthcare industry. It has brought several innovations to the industry, in an effort to push healthcare equity and to provide easy access to healthcare across all nationalities, languages, and social statuses. Mobile health (mHealth) is one of the best examples of how technology has transformed the healthcare industry, along with wearable devices and similar technologies.

But how has it overcome the limitations of language? In this guide, we will take a deep dive into the world of mobile phone apps, especially those with a healthcare focus, to determine ways on how they can be improved.

Introduction to Mobile Health

Mobile health, or mHealth, is the use of mobile phones and other forms of mobile technologies to improve the delivery and outcomes of health services. In some cases, mHealth also facilitates research for specific health conditions. Health experts believe that mobile health plays a vital role in increasing patient engagement, especially with the proliferation of mobile devices (such as mobile phones and tablet computers) and mobile apps globally. The growth of smartphone usage coupled with the advancement of wearable devices and mobile health apps ensures a brighter future for mHealth.

man looking at a health app on his phoneAccording to research, there are more than 250,000 mobile health apps currently available in most app stores. These apps generate more than 3 billion downloads annually. Currently, there are no sufficient data to support how many patients rely on health-related apps without other interventions. Nonetheless, the reliance on mobile health technologies has obviously made a huge impact on the medical and healthcare industry.

Mobile Health vs Telehealth

Mobile health is often interchanged with telehealth. However, these two are different; while telehealth is a catch-all term that refers to the use of any technology that facilitates remote healthcare delivery and outcomes, mobile health is one of its sub-categories.

As such, mobile health is specifically concerned with mobile phone communication and technology to achieve desired healthcare goals. The World Health Organization defines telehealth as the use of wireless and mobile technologies to support specific health objectives. The National Institute of Health defines mobile health in the same way. The goal is to improve health outcomes, manage health, and deliver healthcare services.

The key word is “mobile”; the increased reliance on mobile devices is one of the driving forces behind the growth of mobile health. The access to smartphones and mobile apps makes it easier for patients to communicate with their healthcare providers and ensure remote patient monitoring, along with other mHealth interventions.

A pair of trainers and a phone with a running tracker appThe best way to define and differentiate mobile health from telehealth is the use of mobile devices, whether through mobile health apps or wearable devices, to support healthcare delivery and health outcomes for patients that use them.

Another distinction that mobile health has against telehealth is the focus on the patient. While some aspects of telehealth services focus on clinical studies and research, mobile health (or mHealth) is different because it’s about the patient capturing and monitoring health data by themselves. In a way, mHealth increases adherence to treatment plans and improves health outcomes by encouraging patients in managing health at home. It is a powerful tool for the healthcare system and digital health because empowered patients are more likely to seek treatment support from healthcare practitioners and improve medication adherence, especially when it comes to chronic diseases.

Unlike telehealth which is based on clinical care, mobile health is more about the self-interaction involving patients. Experts call it a user-directed health technology in this digital health space. When coupled with other remote patient monitoring technologies, it could be the most powerful tool to advance the digital health industry.

Various Types of mHealth Apps Today

What are the mHealth apps currently available for patients? As the medical and healthcare industry continues its shift toward the digital health era, it’s becoming more important to understand how to use mHealth apps to facilitate health care delivery and boost the medical systems.

These mobile phone apps are available via Google Play or the Apple app store, depending on the type of mobile phone you use. They rely on wireless infrastructure to gather essential healthcare information from patients.

It’s important to take a closer look at the existing mHealth solutions to determine how patients can make the most of them. The following are some examples of mHealth apps and solutions currently available in the healthcare industry to ensure that you can find the right mHealth technology for your specific purpose.

  • mHealth apps are available for booking an appointment with healthcare providers from your mobile device. There are smartphone apps that are set up to send automated text messages as reminders for upcoming medical appointments.
  • mHealth apps assist patients in obtaining the correct information on the dosage and frequency of medication intake, which promotes medication adherence.
  • mHealth apps enable patients to monitor vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate.
  • mHealth apps allow patients to store crucial health data, such as electronic health records, to make data sharing easier with your healthcare provider or clinic.

While there is no shortage of mHealth apps, there is a growing need for medical app translation. The increased accessibility of mobile apps also means that more non-English speaking users rely on these mobile health apps for treatment support. Translation of smartphone apps that provide health care data or enable communication with health providers is a growing necessity, especially if you want to ensure compliance for your mHealth solutions.

Person wearing a smartwatchLanguage Considerations in Mobile Health

The rise of mHealth is a good thing for the healthcare system. Many healthcare business models incorporate the use of mobile phone apps and digital technologies to speed up data collection and to provide an accurate assessment of patient health conditions. Health practitioners and experts have long been working on improving patient engagement to improve public health awareness and improve health through collecting data and monitoring them.

However, mHealth solutions do have their own set of limitations and barriers in delivering patient care. It is crucial to identify these barriers to maximise the potential benefits of mHealth solutions for health care and for addressing a broad range of chronic diseases.

Language is one of the areas that healthcare practitioners are focusing on, as far as the barriers to the adoption of mobile health technologies are concerned. It is important to address these barriers to facilitate more mHealth projects and to bring mHealth solutions to the developing world, not just in centralized areas and first-world countries.

Possible Language Issues in Mobile Technology and Apps Development

Language barriers in healthcare services are innately prevalent, especially in areas dealing with high migration levels. Even native English speakers are struggling with navigating the health system, especially in communicating with the support and medical staff. People who are dealing with a language barrier or have recently migrated are the ones who face the hurdle of limited access to healthcare services.

The initial development of health apps for mobile phones aimed to bridge those language gaps. These apps are intended for individuals who have low-level language proficiency or those who have migrated or do not have proficiency with a given language at all. Providing adequate language support in these apps for mobile devices can improve access to quality patient and medical care.

Unnecessary Interventions

The language barriers in the use of mHealth apps for mobile devices in the healthcare setting could result in unnecessary interventions. The lack of communication and understanding between patients and healthcare providers could result in unnecessary administration of healthcare procedures, such as IV fluid administration, laboratory testing, and hospital admission among patients who don’t speak English or those with low language proficiency.

Person holding a phone displaying a medial appThe potential risks and side effects of these unnecessary interventions are not known yet due to the lack of systematic reviews and literature to prove them. Therefore, more research and systematic reviews should be done to analyse the potential consequences of performing these interventions in the hospital setting.

The use of digital tools available through the app stores can cause a more serious prevalence of this incident. The lack of non-verbal cues and physical context clues can put at risk more communication and language barriers. Among these potential consequences are increased cost of healthcare services, improper management of chronic diseases (due to poor comprehension of healthcare instructions), and a higher mortality rate. These problems could be easily avoided with the proper utilisation of mHealth technologies for public health use.

Mutual Lack of Comprehension

Language barriers in mobile health technologies are directly linked to a decreased quality of follow-up care, medication adherence, and patient satisfaction. These issues are common in developing world countries, but can also affect those in the US or UK, especially migrant people.

Patients who are non-native speakers have limited communication capabilities with healthcare providers. It creates challenges in communication because it is not only the patients who are struggling but also the medical staff who provide care and treatment support to these patients.

It is vital for healthcare staff to understand the chief complaints of patients during the initial stage of healthcare support. The data collection process is integral in medical systems because it is where the medical history of the patient is created, which will inform later procedures. With a growing number of mHealth applications for mobile phone users, data sharing and collection can be done through these apps. Access to the patient’s medical history can ensure the delivery of appropriate patient care.

A mutual lack of comprehension impacts in-hospital and out-of-hospital care settings. Taking this language issue in developing mHealth apps will enable better comprehension of medicine dosage, post-discharge adherence to follow-up care, and monitoring of vital patient health information, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and medication adherence. The improvement of language in mHealth apps is vital in not only overcoming these barriers but also in preventing the potentially harmful side effects of inefficient care delivery.

It is imperative to employ the services of a medical translator and language experts to ensure those language considerations are made in the development stage of mHealth apps. The development of health apps for mobile phones should be done alongside public health research to ensure that these tools can aid healthcare systems.

Delayed Health Services

Another impact of language barriers in the development of health and fitness apps for mobile phones in managing health conditions is the potential delay in providing care. Several factors in the use of mobile device apps can lead to the delay of services, which in turn can impact the prognosis of various health conditions. Data analysis using the data collected is crucial in monitoring the urgency of certain conditions. This is how health analysis tools are a vital part of digital health solutions through mHealth apps.

With the real-time evaluation of health informatics through mHealth apps, a timely dispatch of healthcare services ensures that public health needs are addressed promptly. The handling of processed data is significantly felt in medical emergencies. The immediate processing of patient information through mHealth apps can improve outcomes for medical emergencies, especially those that require prompt intervention. Therefore, overcoming language barriers and enhancing the use of mobile health technologies can boost public health delivery.

Disease Surveillance and Monitoring

The innovation of wearable devices, such as heart rate and blood pressure monitors and smartwatches, was considered a huge leap for the use of mobile technology in the healthcare field. The use of mobile applications for health and disease surveillance is considered an integral step in health responsibilisation.

Smartphone showing heart rate on a mhealth appOver recent years, there is an increased number of options for mobile applications and technologies that enable patients to monitor their health conditions at home or outside of the hospital setting, especially patients with chronic health conditions. It is in line with the advocacy behind the development of mHealth apps to deliver patient empowerment. It also promotes the patient’s ability to take personal responsibility for their health. In addition, it educates patients about the importance of behaviour that are directly connected to their body processes, such as the human factors that contribute to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, etc.

This is good news for the health industry, in general, because patients can take back control of their health without relying on institutional medicine. It is also time-saving and reduces unnecessary visits to a medical professional. But there is a big-picture importance to supporting mhealth projects. The shared data can be utilised to feed crucial information to aid public health and medical internet research.

As the use of mobile apps for health continues to grow, it becomes more important to take language considerations into account in the use of mobile technology for health. These mobile phone apps rely heavily on the patient to monitor their health and perform disease surveillance. Therefore, it is important to consider the language proficiency of patients who are using that particular mobile technology to ensure that they fully understand how to use it and avoid misunderstanding the methods of using it.

Language services can play a vital role in the development of digital health tools, such as mobile phone apps. With these apps available globally through Google Play or the Apple store, users from various parts of the world – even those who are non-English speakers – can download and use them. App developers need to make sure that language considerations empower these patients to utilise these tools for their intended purpose. If not, it could have serious consequences, such as a lack of risk management in handling chronic high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. Patients could end up depriving themselves of the medical care they need due to improper use of mobile phone apps for health and disease surveillance.

a laptop, a plant and phone with mhealth app on a deskLocalising Mobile Health Apps

Localisation is one of the most effective solutions that can address the language barriers in mobile health and mHealth solutions. The localisation process enables mHealth apps to be available in new languages and new markets.

Simply put, mHealth apps must undergo cultural, linguistic, and technical considerations before it is released into the market. These features facilitate the use of mobile apps for health and medical purposes to ensure the original intent is preserved in using the app.

There are several benefits to localising mHealth apps, such as the following:

1. The use of mHealth apps improves access to multilingual health care and enables interpreting services to become available upon request. The language support available with mHealth projects also ensures that non-English speaking users have access to quality health care and expertise in their preferred local language.

2. The localisation of mobile health apps ensures legal compliance for mHealth technology developers. It also allows you to avoid critical legal issues based on regulatory standards.

3. mHealth apps for mobile devices that have localisation features tend to have a higher ROI than those medical apps that don’t offer the same language support feature. The reason for this is that mobile apps that are localised can tap into an international market, serving users across all languages. These mobile phone apps can get more downloads and usage globally, which boosts your revenue as a mobile health app developer.

Use of mHealth Apps in Clinical Trials

One of the areas of application of mobile health technologies that are currently explored is in the clinical trials context. Specifically, these apps are useful in data collection of raw and processed data in a randomised controlled trial. These technologies are useful in clinical trials that deal with large volumes of data.

This research study conducted in 2015 is one of the literature reviews that explain how mobile technology is used in a controlled trial setting. According to the result of the control group studies that employed mobile technology, the use of mobile devices was able to support the long-term goal of the clinical trials. Therefore, health researchers are examining other ways to exploit the use of mobile health technologies for similar applications and a different control group in the future.

mHealth Trends

A 2018 survey by a health insurance company determined that 36% of US consumers relied on the internet or a mobile device app to compare health services. Millennial users account for 51% of these users, which isn’t surprising since they are among the heavy users of mobile phones.

Person holding a smartwatch showing heart rate on an mhealth appAnother study by Deloitte revealed that the majority of healthcare consumers used wearable devices for data collection and health or disease surveillance. Meanwhile, Accenture published a research study claiming their reliance on mobile technology for health management. In fact, many share their health information with their physicians through these wireless devices

What does this mean for the future of mobile health apps? It’s too early to tell how broad the reach of this technology will be on the healthcare system. But one thing is for sure, it has empowered patients in controlling their healthcare approach, as long as the important language considerations cited above are addressed in the development stage.

Final Thoughts

Using mHealth apps and mobile devices interventions are changing the way patients and health providers interact with each other. It is a good sign for healthcare systems because the proliferation of mobile communication technologies, mobile phone applications, and mHealth technologies improve health access, especially among patients who cannot visit their physician’s office regularly due to various reasons.

But the mobile health industry is not without its own set of challenges. While the market is awash with mHealth apps, most of these are still inaccessible to users due to language barriers. There is a demand for multilingual options in the development of mHealth apps to ensure that those who speak other languages can utilise their features and extensively benefit from the use of mHealth interventions and mobile phone applications. Therefore, consider the localisation strategies recommended here to overcome the issues and enable them to become the valuable tool that they ought to be.

My Language Connection is an experienced translation services provider specialising in medical and healthcare translations. Contact us today and find out how we can help you overcome every communication challenge using accurate and localised mobile app translations.

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