Health app market gets crowded
Efforts aim to help navigate mobile health maze
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