The Doctor Will Sync You Now

By Apples-app-store-icon-o

Takeaway: mHealth developers expect the importance of app stores to diminish. mHealth apps will predominantly be distributed through traditional healthcare channels by 2015.

Our firm, Berlin-based research2guidance, conducted a global mHealth developer survey in order to identify emerging trends in this new market.

One of the most striking results of the survey was that leading mHealth developers believe that in the years to come mHealth applications will cease to be distributed primarily through the app stores as is currently the case, and that traditional healthcare distribution channels like hospitals and specialized healthcare product vendors will become the predominant distribution channels.

This would represent a significant shift when compared to the market today, as the smartphone app store model has been the key driver behind the initial success of mHealth applications over the last two years.

More than half of all respondents (53%) believe that app stores are currently the best distribution channel followed only by healthcare websites (49%). Traditional health distribution channels like doctors (34%), hospitals (31%) and pharmacies (16%) are ranked as second and third tier distribution channels today. Despite the fact that mobile operators are regarded as players who will help the mHealth market to grow, they are not seen as appropriate distribution channels either now or in the future.

Q: What are the best distribution channels for mhealth solutions today?

Picture 21

In 5 years time survey participants anticipate that the traditional distribution channels like hospitals (68%), doctors (65%) and traditional healthcare websites (56%) will become the main platforms on which to sell mHealth solutions. Generally speaking all distribution channels will grow in importance, but developers envision that in just 5 years’ time the major distribution channel will be doctors prescribing or suggesting applications to patients as a component of treatment.

Q: What will be the best mHealth distribution channels in five years time? Picture 22

If that is the case, what is it that will persuade healthcare professionals to recommend and use mHealth applications in spite of the fact that health insurance providers are unlikely to include applications in their reimbursement plans? Here are seven possible explanations:

1.    Growing awareness: The growing awareness of mHealth in the medical community, as well as the growing proportion of patients using smartphones, will encourage healthcare professionals to exploit the possibilities rendered by smartphone technology and incorporate applications into their patient management plans.

2.    Incentives: Specialized distribution providers will develop business models that will allow doctors to recommend applications and profit from downloads. They could, for example, receive a share of revenues from downloads or subscription fees from specialized mHealth app stores.

3.    Sponsored apps: Applications that improve the efficacy of a particular treatment would be popular with pharmaceutical/device manufacturers, as doctors would be more likely to prescribe their products. Pharma/device companies would sponsor application development and encourage doctors to prescribe their products in conjunction with applications, which doctors would do because the application would improve patient outcomes, thereby giving the company’s product a competitive edge.

4.     Patient demand: An increasing number of “tech-savvy” patients, understanding the benefits of mHealth applications, will expect treatment or convenient communication with healthcare professionals to be facilitated by applications.

5.    Differentiation: Tech-savvy healthcare professionals will make use of innovative solutions to differentiate their practice and stay ahead of the competition.

6.    Shortage of physicians: In areas that have always suffered because of the low number of healthcare professionals, such as rural areas or in the developing world, mobile applications allow patients to connect remotely to healthcare providers like physicians. Healthcare professionals active in these regions are already making use of this exciting opportunity to improve healthcare delivery. Treatment quality is improved, and from a health economics point-of-view, costs are reduced as travel times and distances are diminished and physicians get to see more patients.

7.    Cost pressure: The increasing cost of healthcare is forcing both public and commercial healthcare providers to test and deploy cost-effective solutions. Within the next few years the market will include numerous mHealth solutions that will have successfully provided proof of concept.
These scenarios suggest that the proliferation of mHealth applications into traditional healthcare distribution channels is not far off.

This outlook is based on the views of our survey participants that include for example: AT&T, Bayer Healthcare Diabetes Care, Beijing KellyMed Co., Boehringer Ingelheim, Bosch Healthcare, Ericsson Nikola Tesla, GlaxoSmithKline, NHS, Nokia, Roche (Diagnostics Division), SingTel, Sorin Group, Sprint, Telefónica and Turkcell to name just a view.

Commentology : Is their view overly optimistic, or will applications be delivered predominantly through traditional healthcare distribution channels within the next few years – what do you think?

research2guidance is a Berlin-based research firm specializing in the mobile marketplace.

The survey has been conducted between August and September of 2010. N= 231.  Please see summary paper for more details and all results.

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