If you ask healthcare professionals about what the future holds for the industry, and they’ll confidently reply: Mobile.

Mobile technology is becoming more ubiquitous in America. A Pew Research report shows that 64% of all adult Americans own a smartphone, and ownership rates among millennials reach above 80%. In order to remain relevant and resonate with the next generation of patients, the healthcare industry needs to move forward with its effort to go mobile.

However, it’s noticeable how the industry is still lacking a clear definition of what “mobile” really means. General conversations about the future of the healthcare industry often use the terms “apps” and “mobile” interchangeably. Some use the term for anything considered digital. A few might not be able to define it at all.

So what, specifically, is a mobile healthcare (mHealth) solution? Mobile healthcare (noun): Any healthcare service provided via a mobile technology platform.

At the core, mHealth is not intended to be, nor should it be, a complete replacement for the traditional patient care system.

Designs and purposes for mHealth services are diverse. Some mHealth solutions target future fitness or diet goals with gamified apps, while others deal with administrative aspects of the industry, such as scheduling appointments or refilling prescriptions through text. More yet specialize in helping change patient behavior or treat chronic diseases by providing tools to track medication adherence and communicate with medical professionals who need extra assistance. While varied, they all fall under mHealth.

mHealth is more than just an app

I have found the large number of mHealth apps offered can cause some confusion when trying to define mobile healthcare solutions, as companies producing their own mobile solutions can come to believe mHealth is equivalent to only healthcare apps.

Apps are part of the mHealth portfolio — but limiting the definition of mHealth to apps limits its flexibility. There are many other mHealth options beyond apps.

Mobile is first and foremost a communication platform

Mobile, by its pure essence, is a communication tool. It provides individuals with a way to communicate and share information at any time, at any location, via multiple modalities (e.g. voice, text, messaging).

Imagine being able to opt-in to a text-based reminder system set up by your doctor’s office to send you a custom text immediately after missing a prescribed medication dose as a reminder, or an interactive system that allows you to send information about how many steps you’ve taken, your blood sugar levels or your diet for the day, and receive feedback from medical staff offering encouragement or correction. Systems like these are being implemented using technology readily available to patients, and are proving to have a wide reach for providers.

Mobile should be a part of the overall customer experience

What mHealth is designed for is becoming an integral part of the modern patient care system. The medium is at its peak when developers and producers stick to the basics. Mobile has always been a means of communication, in real time and accessible around the world. Leveraging these strengths can take the friction out of administrative systems, provide better access for and to patients and, overall, help facilitate human connections. There are few options as powerful.

Simply put, a mobile healthcare solution is a new and exciting source of innovation for the healthcare industry. It is a flexible healthcare solution not tied to any specific form and based on an evolving platform of mobile technology. And it has the potential to improve the patient experience while lowering costs for healthcare providers — as long as the industry can agree on an apt definition.