With about 9,000 consumer health apps currently available in the iTunes store, it seems like almost all smart phone users can download their way to better health these days.
The store offers a mindboggling array of creative apps, including ones that calculate calories burned during exercise, create soundtracks to help people fall asleep, and display pictures that can elicit memories from Alzheimer’s patients. If the store doesn’t offer something for what ails you now, it probably will soon. The selections will proliferate within the next year, with an additional 4,000 consumer apps expected by next summer, industry experts say.
But all this innovation creates a bewildering set of problems. It’s hard to figure out what apps are available, let alone which work best. Health apps may have the potential to dramatically improve people’s lives, but those based on misleading or bogus information can cause serious harm.
“Apple isn’t testing apps for their scientific validity,” said Dan Cohen, a social worker who has reviewed apps for their effectiveness.
Given the stakes, it’s no surprise that the government is starting to regulate these smart phone applications. Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission brought its first cases against the makers of two health apps. Each claimed to cure acne with colored lights emitted from cell phones.
I have been musing about why, despite our fascination with gadgets and timesaving devices, so few of us use the apps and tools that have been developed to help us take care of ourselves.
The range of options is staggering – my iPhone coughed up 52 applications for medication reminders just now – but most of us don’t make use of the (often free) high-tech help available to us. There are hundreds of websites and portals to help us monitor our diets, physical activity and blood sugar, talk to our doctors by e-mail and understand our test results. Apps can help us watch for drug interactions, unravel our test results, adjust our hearing aids and track our symptoms. Devices can monitor whether our mom is moving around her house this morning or continuously monitor our vital signs.
Physician executives who ignore smartphones and their healthcare applications will miss the most important disruptive technology trend in the next five years. Physician executives who understand how smartphones will transform the industry for providers, payers, patients, and employers will thrive in their careers.
Rajeev Kapoor, a former executive at Verizon, describes the smartphone-enabled transformation: “The paradigm of healthcare has changed. You used to bring the patient to the doctor. Now you take the doctor, hospital, and entire healthcare ecosystem to the patient.” (http://ow.ly/3GIir) Susannah Fox of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project offers a specific example when she talks about the celiac disease patient who uses her smartphone to evaluate food products in the grocery store.
“You cannot call your gastroenterologist every time you buy a new product.” (http://e-patients.net/index.php?s=fox) David Jacobson of Wellpoint notes that “The technology of telehealth is well ahead of the socialization of the telehealth idea and we are at a tipping point for utilization to begin taking off.” (http://ow.ly/3GIir)
The Global mHealth Developer Survey found that today 78% of respondents said that smartphones offer “the best business opportunities for mobile healthcare” in 2011; by 2015, 82% said smartphones would dominate the industry. Cell phones, tablets, and PDAs trailed smartphones in popularity according to the survey. (http://ow.ly/1aVf9V)
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?