Health app mar­ket gets crowded

Ef­forts aim to help nav­i­gate mo­bile health maze

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Ex­perts agree that mo­bile de­vices will sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact health­care and not just de­liv­ery of care as we know it to­day. How fast that will hap­pen and how broadly are the unan­swered ques­tions. “It’s time,” says Bryan Si­vak, the newly ap­pointed chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer at HHS. “From my per­spec­tive, and I be­lieve the per­spec­tive of the depart­ment, mo­bile is a tech­nol­ogy that winds its way through ev­ery­thing we’re do­ing and we’re plan­ning to do—not on its own, but a chan­nel to de­liver con­tent. As de­vices and sen­sors in a mo­bile con­text just be­come more com­mon, it’s just a great way for us to col­lect more real-time in­for­ma­tion and con­nect physi­cians and pa­tients with each other.”

Mo­bile health tech­nol­ogy, some­times short­ened to mHealth, was de­fined last sum­mer in a re­port from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Global Ob­ser­va­tory for eHealth as “med­i­cal and pub­lic health prac­tice sup­ported by mo­bile de­vices, such as mo­bile phones, pa­tient mon­i­tor­ing de­vices, per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tants (PDAs) and other wire­less de­vices.” Those de­vices use an ar­ray of mes­sag­ing tech­niques, in­clud­ing short mes­sag­ing ser­vice, or SMS; gen­eral packet ra­dio ser­vice, or GPRS; a the global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem; short-range Blue­tooth; and wider-range, third- and fourth-gen­er­a­tion mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, or 3G and 4G.

Chilmark Re­search, a health IT mar­ket re­search firm based in Cam­bridge, Mass., re­cently es­ti­mated the U.S. mar­ket for what it de­scribed as mHealth tools and ap­pli­ca­tions, or apps, used by health­care providers and pa­tients to­gether, at only $8.3 mil­lion this year, but it will dou­ble next year and quadru­ple the next, as the ef­fects of health­care re­form kick in. Af­ter that, Chilmark sees the mHealth mar­ket surg­ing above $1 bil­lion by 2017 (See chart).

Ear­lier this month, Glob­alData, a New York­based mar­ket re­search firm, pegged the U.S. mo­bile health­care mar­ket at $660 mil­lion in 2011, with soft­ware and ser­vices ac­count­ing for 80% of the spend­ing. Roughly 30% of cur­rent health­care ap­pli­ca­tions are used by clin­i­cians, to ac­cess or an­a­lyze pa­tient in­for­ma­tion, their re­searchers con­clude. The other 70% of apps are “con­sumer fac­ing.” World­wide, the mo­bile health­care niche is expected to grow nearly 900% over seven years, from $1.2 bil­lion last year to $11.8 bil­lion by 2018.

By late 2011, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union data cited by a re­cent Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers anal­y­sis on mo­bile health­care, nearly 6 bil­lion of Earth’s 7 bil­lion peo­ple had mo­bile phone sub­scrip­tions, with U.S. cell-phone us­age reach­ing about 275 mil­lion.

The PwC re­searchers found that con­sumers were far out front of providers in their ac­cep­tance of and de­mands for mo­bile health ser­vices, while de­vel­op­ing nations were adopt­ing mo­bile health much faster than in the U.S. and other more de­vel­oped coun­ter­parts.

The real bar­ri­ers

“The main bar­ri­ers are not the tech­nol­ogy,” but rather the health­care in­dus­try’s “in­her­ent re­sis­tance to change,” Dr. David Levy, PwC’s global health­care leader, says in a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing the firm’s re­port. “Though many peo­ple think mo­bile health will be an­cil­lary or bolted on to the health­care in­dus­try, we look at it dif­fer­ently” as “the fu­ture of health­care, deeply in­te­grated into de­liv­ery that will be bet­ter, faster, less ex­pen­sive and far more cus­tomer-fo­cused.”

But for now, “It’s kind of like a wild, wild West in the mo­bile health space,” says Lee Perl­man, pres­i­dent of GNYHA Ven­tures, a for­profit sub­sidiary of the Greater New York Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, which serves 250 hos­pi­tals and other care or­ga­ni­za­tions in the metropoli- tan New York re­gion. “We’ve tried to put some ra­tio­nale to it.”

The sub­sidiary has in­vested $2.5 mil­lion in cre­at­ing Happ­tique, a mo­bile health ser­vices plat­form for hos­pi­tals, doc­tors, de­vel­op­ers and provider or­ga­ni­za­tions as well as pa­tients. It in­cludes a mo­bile app man­age­ment soft­ware sys­tem that en­ables hos­pi­tals and other provider or­ga­ni­za­tions to con­trol ac­cess to their elec­tronic health-record sys­tems by users of mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions.

It also of­fers a cat­a­log of apps, sorted into more than 300 health­care cat­e­gories for eas­ier search­ing. This on­line mar­ket will al­low hos­pi­tals and other health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions a place to brand and sell their in-house de­vel­oped apps, serv­ing as a gate­keeper for apps used by their pa­tients. It has a pro­gram un­der way to vet and cer­tify ap­pli­ca­tions for op­er­abil­ity, pri­vacy, se­cu­rity and con­tent. (The pub­lic-com­ment pe­riod for the first round of mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cri­te­ria ends Aug. 17.)

Happ­tique also plans to launch a ser­vice en­abling physi­cians to write their pa­tients “pre­scrip­tions” for per­ti­nent mo­bile health­care ap­pli­ca­tions. Pa­tients can then go to the site and down­load to their smart­phones or tablet com­put­ers a spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tion to fit their med­i­cal or pre­ven­tive health­care needs. “We’re look­ing at apps in a sim­i­lar vein as drugs,” Perl­man says. “They are pills of in­for­ma­tion.”

Perl­man al­ready has plenty of com­pe­ti­tion. Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket­ing in­for­ma­tion for Happ­tique, 63% of physi­cians are us­ing mo­bile health so­lu­tions that are not con­nected to their prac­tices or hos­pi­tals.

Mo­biHealthNews, a mo­bile health mar­ket re­search com­pany based in Cam­bridge, Mass., re­ports that in April there were 13,600 con­sumer health apps and an es­ti­mated 5,200 med­i­cal pro­fes­sional apps now on Ap­ple’s App Store. Ac­cord­ing to Brian Dolan, the firm’s co-founder and manag­ing ed­i­tor, de­vel­op­ers of mo­bile health apps for Ap­ple de­vices typ­i­cally re­lease coun­ter­parts for phones and tablets run­ning on Google’s An­droid mo­bile oper­at­ing sys­tem, ei­ther si­mul­ta­ne­ously or soon there­after. “And if it’s in the An­droid store, it’s al­most cer­tainly in the Ap­ple store,” Dolan says.

Yet an­other com­peti­tor is Or­lando Por­tale, chief in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer at the San Diego-based Palo­mar Health, who over­sees de­vel­op­ment of the health sys­tem’s own mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion plat­form un­der the work­ing name of MIAA, which stands for “med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion any­time, any­where.”

When the new 288-bed Palo­mar Med­i­cal Cen­ter opens Aug. 19 in Es­con­dido, Calif., plans call for fully lever­ag­ing mo­bile wire­less

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