Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 15, 2012

MHealth Identified as Major Growth Sector in Healthcare - Especially with Support from FCC

Some well-known companies – as well as lesser known firms – stand to benefit from the growing demand for mobile health technology.

Mobile health (mHealth) involves the monitoring of patients or providing them with various forms of healthcare using mobile technology. There is exchange of data, images and video and the use of mobile networks, devices and applications.

And the sector’s technology is becoming more popular, with growing acceptance by physicians.

Image via Shutterstock

Companies like Qualcomm, Intel and Apple, as well as smaller firms like Fitbit Inc., and Entra Health Systems, stand to benefit from this trend.

One example of expansion in this sector is Qualcomm, which invested $100 million in its subsidiary, Qualcomm Life Inc., in 2011, according to a company statement. The division is focused on improving the capabilities of medical devices.

According to a recent report from iData Research, the U.S. patient monitoring market was valued at over $3.1 billion in 2011 and will grow to almost $4.2 billion by 2018.

The large jump comes as a result of adoption of wireless ambulatory telemetry monitors, and low-acuity vital sign monitors, as well as telehealth for both remote monitoring of chronic conditions and for patients with Cardiovascular Implantable Electronic Devices.

The market for more traditional monitoring products, such as multi-parameter vital sign monitoring, telemetry, fetal and neonatal monitoring, will also increase as older devices are replaced.

“The growing awareness of the benefits of remote monitoring, in addition to large purchases by the Department of Veterans Affairs has helped drive growth in the telehealth for the chronic conditions segment,” Kamran Zamanian, CEO of iData, said in a recent statement. “By 2018, the U.S. telehealth market is expected to more than double in value, with companies such as Honeywell, Bosch Healthcare and Cardiocom battling for market share.”

The growth also comes because of improved patient mobility after surgery, leading to faster recovery and an earlier discharge from a hospital. 

Patient-worn monitors are expected to be in demand too, as telemetry monitoring expands to general wards.

In addition, smartphone compatible monitoring products are expected to be popular. This is the case for the pulse oximetry and blood pressure monitoring segments.

“Several pulse oximetry and blood pressure monitoring products which connect to smartphone devices were announced in the U.S. market,” Zamanian said. “Factors which will drive the uptake of smartphone compatible monitors include convenience of monitoring, ease of use, familiar platform for smartphone users, new and exciting method for measuring blood pressure, and the ability to share and analyze results.”

Among the companies cited by iData are Philips, Medtronic and Bosch. The pulse oxemetry sector companies cited include Covidien and Masimo.

In an additional study, Frost & Sullivan has said the wide presence of cell phones and mobile-enabled monitoring technology offers opportunities to the healthcare industry. Through mobile technology, healthcare is more accessible and gets to patients quicker and more economically.

In a statement earlier this year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he wants to see mobile health technology prevalent in five years. The FCC has highlighted several areas on which it wants to focus. These include:

The loosening of FCC rules so it is easier to develop wireless health device “test beds.” They make it easier to test mHealth technology.

New FCC rules for Rural Health Care (RHC) that allow networks of hospital and healthcare facilities to jointly apply for government money to boost broadband capacity.

More collection of data related to broadband and telehealth, by those using RHC programs.

Also, the FCC’s International Bureau will work with regulators from other parts of the world so there is more spectrum available for Medical Body Area Network (MBAN). MBANs, which are networks of wireless sensors, provide a patient’s vital signs to a physician or hospital through mobile devices.

The FCC recommendations were developed by the mHealth Task Force, made up of wireless healthcare technology specialists who want to encourage adoption of mHealth technology.

In response to the FCC’s initiative, Robert Jarrin, Qualcomm’s senior director for Government Affairs, said in a statement, “Qualcomm appreciates the central role the FCC plays in enabling new health care technologies that rely on wireless communications and broadband connectivity. For mobile health care to be successful, there is no question that the nation will need more mobile broadband spectrum to ensure that our wireless networks are robust and reliable. We also need to update policies and regulations to ensure that they incentivize doctors and patients to take advantage of the full range of innovations made available by wireless technology.”

He also pointed out that by 2020, 160 million Americans will use wireless technology for treatment and monitoring for at least one chronic condition, according to a study by John Hopkins University.

In a related matter, the FCC came up with final rules to allocate 40 MHz of spectrum – the 2360-2400 MHz band – on a shared basis for MBANs, according to a report from BNA Bloomberg.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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