Back in July 2012, we wrote an article that suggests that mobile health apps are huge, but that the really important mobile health apps target the healthcare providers themselves and not consumers. We still very much believe this to be the case, but there is also no denying that consumers are continuing to embrace mobile healthcare in all of its myriad forms, especially as point solution apps.
There is no question that with the rapid advancement of mobility - not only in terms of mobile capabilities, but simply in terms of the sheer number of people now willing to invest their time in using the apps - is the future of healthcare, and that future is now upon us. This fast growing uptake of digital health applications on smartphones will radically change the way healthcare is delivered. Accessing health information on mobile devices will soon be the new standard, and health apps will play an increasing and permanent role in this system.
An example of the kinds of mobile health apps that are now emerging include HealthTegra's Breast Self Examination (BSE) Aware mobile app. There are also larger scale consumer-facing apps that also connect to service providers such as doctors and pharmacies. MediSafe Project, for example is a cloud-based medication compliance app that also aggregates valuable information from many users on their medication compliance habits.
Research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that in 2011 there were roughly 17,000 health-related applications for iPhones, Android-based devices, and other smart phones and tablets. The final numbers in 2012 will prove much, much larger.
Health apps not only perform the relatively simple tasks of point solutions - for example counting calories, but they now also help consumers and healthcare professionals track, monitor, and share personal-health information for a variety of increasingly complex conditions, including heart failure, respiratory illness, and mental illness. The MediSafe Project example is but one among thousands of such apps, though MediSafe is also one that operates within a newly emerging "collaborative" model that requires both cloud computing and big data analysis. It is a great example of how technologies that are both new and contemporary to each other are coming together.
The key piece that mobility plays here is that it serves as the common underlying denominator for bringing all of these technologies together. It is critical that mobility has become an entirely frictionless endeavor - everyone has their smartphone with them at all times, everyone knows how to download an app and it’s quite easy (for the most part) to use the mobile apps as consumers. One other key thing that makes mobile apps so powerful is that they are typically either free or otherwise of very low cost. No one needs to think twice about them from a cost perspective.
Currently, simple apps that are easily downloadable for smart phones or tablets constitute the majority of mobile health-related apps. They require relatively unsophisticated tools and calculators with lower-levels of security and analytics than apps intended for healthcare professionals. A persistent trend is that most healthcare apps track workouts or diets. Far fewer are dedicated to real health problems, such as chronic condition management, but these are also available.
"For this collection of reasons, health apps represent a great tool for informing and supporting patients in the self-management of their health and wellbeing," states Frost & Sullivan research analyst Malgorzata Filar.
An example of direct healthcare provider mobile applications includes such apps (and mobile devices) such as what is provided by Nuvon. Nuvon is focused on ensuring that the quality and accuracy of patient information is as high as it can possibly be. This is an area where mobility is proving itself to "save lives." It goes a great deal beyond simple calorie counters. Another great example here is the mobile work that Cerner and Nuance are doing together on delivering real-time voice-enabled electronic health records.
Issues That Require Resolution
Taken together it's clear that mobility is driving a revolution on the healthcare side of things. Never the less, Frost & Sullivan's research does find that despite the promising future of mobile health apps, there are also several issues that have to be addressed before patients and doctors can truly enjoy the benefits of mobile health.
"Achieving sustained health outcome depends on consumer engagement with health treatments. Many chronic conditions require careful adherence to voluntary behaviors, such as monitoring nutrition, managing weight, and exercising healthy choices. The best piloted programs often fail because these lifestyle changes are hard to follow consistently over a continued period of time," notes Ms Filar.
Another obstacle that Frost & Sullivan makes note of comes from physicians who may not encourage or even dissuade patients from the use of mobile health apps. Some clinicians fear that as consumers become empowered with information about price, quality, services, and wait times, doctors will lose control over revenues and how medicine is practiced. They are afraid that the traditional role of the doctor as a guide to health treatments will weaken as consumers rely on mobile health apps or access Websites on their smart phones to direct their own healthcare.
It is a valid concern - but we believe that only the mobile-uninitiated will have these concerns. In essentially all cases we are familiar with where doctors, clinicians, hospitals, medical centers and other healthcare providers have gotten on the mobility train the benefits of mobile become rapidly visible. Most doctors believe that they are gaining far more face to face access with patients, primarily because mobile solutions are significantly reducing the amount of time they spend on administrative tasks.
This is a critical mobile benefit. Doctors that have not yet had the opportunity to use mobile solutions are simply unaware of the great benefits mobile healthcare solutions bring to the game.
Another concern Frost & Sullivan has identified is that while tablets and smart phones combined with mobile apps have the potential to improve patient care, apps should provide some clinical decision-making data to truly add any value to the quality of care. However, without quality clinical research to back them up, they may be a waste of IT resources. This is exactly the sort of issue that Cerner, Nuance and MediSafe are tackling. The solutions are available - they merely need to be adopted.
"With more personalized, sophisticated, web-based healthcare applications there is a promising market for health apps developers and technology vendors," says Ms Filar. "Further, mobile network operators have started to tap into these opportunities and perceive mobile health as a natural extension of their core activities. Moreover, with the huge influx of medical data from sensors and other devices, there will be an increased need for advanced data analytics tools and companies focused on data management. The business around mobile health should thrive and become mutually beneficial for all involved," she concludes.
We totally concur. The good news, as we've highlighted throughout here is that mobility is already delivering on all of these fronts. With healthcare this isn't an evolutionary process. It truly is a revolutionary one.
Anyone interested in learning more about Frost & Sullivan's perspectives on mobile apps in healthcare are encouraged to send email to Joanna Lewandowski (Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org), who heads up corporate communications for the company.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli