Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 24, 2017

Top Trends of mHealth: AI, Data Security, Digital Omnivores & More

What shapes the healthcare solutions we develop today and will use in the future?

$9.3 trillion. This is the annual global spending on healthcare in 2014-2018, according to Deloitte. A hefty part of overall spending is aimed at solving some of the most burning issues in the field: supply to suburban and rural areas, healthcare data management, doctor-to-patient communication, workflow optimization, patient adherence and treatment control, chronic disease monitoring, and routine process automation.

The U.S. leads with up to 18 percent GDP assigned for healthcare in 2018, according to U.S. Healthcare Industry Report.

MHealth has been on a mission to deal with most of these issues for a bit less than a decade now. Here are some numbers that help to create the image of the industry up to this point.

MHealth Market: Numbers and Facts

  • Market. Currently, there are 260,000 mHealth apps added to main stores by 60,000 publishers. Seventy-five percent of all medical apps are available for both iOS and Android.
  • Engagement. Around 61 percent of the mHealth audience downloads medical apps, 85 percent use social media for health advice and 75 percent rely on e-prescriptions. It’s worth noting that 30 percent of all mHealth users are caregivers. The number of users who download mHealth is estimated to reach 2.6 billion by 2020, with 551 million ending up as active users.
  • Revenue. The MHealth market is growing exponentially. According to Research2Guidance modeling, the mHealth app market is going to reach $31 billion in revenue by 2020. Alternative projections made by Grand View Research outline $49 billion by the same time mark.

Factors that streamline mHealth growth

  • Affordability and accessibility. Ever since smartphones became more affordable, with the level of mobile connections reaching 9.7 billion in 2017, accessibility of mHealth applications increased along with the demand. Combined with the decrease of infant death rate, overall population growth and aging, and greater technology engagement, the demand for easily accessible mobile-based solutions is projected to strengthen in the future.
  • BYOD and tech savvy caregivers. Bring your own device (BYOD) principle is already a standard in many industries; healthcare is not an exception. Studies show that more tech savvy doctors and patients apply their personal devices for health-related communication, data search and recording. What’s more, caregivers are targeted as distribution power for mHealth solutions, along with healthcare insurance companies.
  • Emerging markets. Telemedicine and mHealth are seen as major drivers to bring healthcare to undersupplied areas and increase coverage, both by volume and geo. Emerging markets, such as Asia Pacific, in this context, are leaders in engagement and spending growth, estimated at 50 percent for 2014-2020.

Major trends in mHealth that determine what apps we will build and use in the future

Digital omnivores and connectivity at multiple levels: caregivers, publishers, patients, devices and data, and industries.

MHealth takes advantage of the modern connected environment. Through healthcare mobile solutions, caregivers communicate with each other easier, make and get access to electronic health records systems and databases, preserve continuous connection with patients for treatment and post-care monitoring, respond to emergencies quickly, facilitate diagnosis and treatment decisions and even scale down testing to the optimum minimum. This is when the merge of BYOD principle and digital omnivore usage (synchronization of workflow across smartphone, tablet and computers) steps forward.

Publishers of healthcare mobile apps collaborate at various levels and rely on open-source platforms and modules; integrate their apps with third-party apps, sensors and devices through various APIs, like Apple HeathKit; connect to global databases; and take advantage of large scale platforms such as Google Fit, Samsung M-Health. In fact, 58 percent of publishers today already equip their apps with APIs.

Patients continue exploiting mHealth in full. Through mHealth applications and wearables, users are empowered to keep continuous communication with doctors and healthcare facilities; manage adherence, treatment, medical costs and transfer emergency calls promptly; collect healthcare and wellness data through sensors; and telecommute geo-independently.

This line is particularly beneficial for those suffering from chronic diseases. MHealth apps, in this context, become patients’ ongoing companions. For example, Lymphoma Research Foundation in partnership with Across Health created the Focus on Lymphoma app to implement basic functinos such as doctor-to-patient communication, remote monitoring, e-prescription renewal, etc.

Device and data connectivity is especially impactful, as it kick-starts the new loop of mHealth development. Sensors and tracking tools integrated into wearables, IoT, and mobile devices collect and leverage massive data that can either be transferred via APIs for further processing— for example, to an AI-based platform— or to provide instant results via in-app analytic algorithms. The potential of this data usage has global value for both industry quality standards and patient well-being.

Another connection is in regard to industries, and this is where it gets practical. The thing is, mHealth solutions are to improve every stage of the patient journey— financial management is not an exception. Considering many of these journeys start with the choice of a healthcare plan (dealing with an insurance company) and end with payment management (dealing with banks), apps are expected to smooth these routines.

Actually, the study made by Research2Guidance already predicts that health insurance companies (HIC) are to step into the market as key publishers soon.

The majority (85 percent) of companies at the market assume that patients would be willing to share their health data with HICs in return for a cheaper plan, health recommendations or research purposes. HICs are now considered the second most important distribution channel in five years.

Thus, HICs that connect healthcare with law, government, and financial industries are seen as the main distribution channel for mHealth apps. The apps, in this context, will be focused on connecting every key player of the market: patients, caregivers, hospitals, governments, banks and controlling agencies.

High-end technology and advanced materials.

MHealth solutions have been spanning across iOS, Android and Web platforms for a while. At the same time, the application of novel technologies that have just outgrown their infancy – AI-based systems, augmented reality, “smart” medtech, etc. – are believed to transform healthcare routines in the nearest decades.

As mentioned above, healthcare mobile solutions are easily connected to third-party systems through APIs. Imagine the benefits of integrating a medical app with AI-based platforms that allow instant incoming data analysis and provide results for more accurate and robust decision making.

Such systems as IBM Watson have been available for a while – surprisingly, at a relatively affordable price. Here’s an example that proves that it does make a difference.

Recently, Samsung NeuroLogica announced cooperation with MedyMatch Technology on the project that uses AI platforms to instantly detect the possibility of strokes upon the initial check in mobile ambulance vans. An AI platform connected with Samsung’s CereTom computed tomography scanner in a 911 van will enable express analysis of the patient’s brain right upon the ambulance’s arrival. This MedyMatch brain bleed detector is built – surprise, surprise – in cooperation with IBM’s Watson Health project.

AI and machine learning, of course, are not the only technologies that fuel medical apps and provide mHealth solutions with innovation components.

Not only do innovations empower medical apps, but on the contrary, mobile solutions are to serve new technologies. Future apps are the tools for smart medtech and additive manufacturing used in 3D-printing as managers, data collectors and instruments for monitoring and control.

Data security and privacy.

Focus on cybersecurity related to mHeath solutions has taken another twist due to the shift to electronic health records (EHR), remote treatment control, improvement of patient data transfers through mobile, and, most importantly, the BYOD principle. In other words, despite the fact that mobile devices and smartphones equipped with medical apps are already in wide use, they are still poorly secured.

A study in Telemedicine and e-Health found nearly 60 percent of pediatric hospitalists sent or received work-related text messages on their personal smartphones, and 30 percent even indicated receiving PHI in a text message. However, only 11 percent said their institutions offer encryption software for text messaging.

Image via Deloitte

The risks that rise from the use of unsafe unencrypted mobile communication are high, and patient data loss may not be the worst case scenario. For this reason, the focus on the security, standardization and control of mHealth applications will become even more centered in the near future.

Considering medical apps as medical devices, HIPAA and HITECH regulations, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance, CE certification and other national and world-standard measures taken for managing cybersecurity, eliminating off-label marketing and system risk-management in medical devices is relevant and already applied to healthcare mobile solutions.

Off the list, the trends that influence mHealth and shape the apps built and published today are still largely constrained by the legacy of healthcare systems –  some are still paper-based – worldwide. Evidently, the improvement of these systems and mobile solutions in the field are organically interrelated.

As a matter of fact, further digitization of healthcare will naturally reveal the opportunities for mHealth growth. At the same time, the global market of healthcare apps will smooth the digital transformation of the whole industry, providing efficiency through digital tools, innovation and technology solutions.

If you’d like to learn more about AI, APIs and the digital transformation, be sure to check out TMC and Crossfire Media’s newest conference and expo, Communications 20/20, happening July 18-20 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The event will focus on the next wave of technology and innovations that will transcend the importance of person to person contact, disrupting the future of the entire communications industry. Find out more HERE.

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