Changing the mobile health market

Robert Kuersten


That the iPhone is a success story is hardly news. Last quarter Apple announced its all-time record turnover – a whopping $15.7bn – and our research clearly shows a correlation between the launch of the Apple App Store and accelerating sales of iPhones. Apple got it right, in fact so right that there is a new marketplace in the economy – the “app economy”.

The evolution of mobile health is based upon the development of two separate but related technologies – mobile computers and mobile phones. The PDA was first introduced in 1992, and healthcare professionals and publishers immediately saw how it would be a good idea to have a “palmtop” computer with medical references on it available to access while on rounds or consulting with patients which also was the same year that the first SMS was sent. The gap between its invention and the explosion in SMS usage, which occurred in 2000 is explained by the fact that it took that long for the necessary technology to penetrate into the mass market.

The history of mHealth proper, as in the delivery of healthcare related information and services to users’ mobile devices, dates from about the same time that SMS became popular – the beginning of this century, precisely because it was at about that time that the average mobile phone became capable of supporting enough technology to be a useful “mini-computer” that could deliver information by SMS, for example. Predictions at that time projected a billion dollar mHealth market, but that didn’t happen immediately. The main reason for this is very much the same that explains why SMS took eight years to take off – the technology had not yet penetrated the mass market, and so mHealth solutions remained the preserve of big organizations that could afford bespoke solutions and the skills and technology required to develop them. The smartphone has changed that. The launch of the iPhone and the Apple App Store has created a new market model that integrates the technological advances in mobile computing and mobile telephony in a single device that will change the way that healthcare is delivered across the spectrum. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

“it is a surprise to discover that medical education programs targeting physicians and nurses make up 14% of all healthcare related applications on the app stores.”

In order to understand the fundamentals of the market the report research2guidance produced the comprehensive “Global Mobile Health Market Report 2010-2015” which looks at the barriers that prevented the significant expansion of the mHealth market before the advent of the iPhone and the Apple App Store in detail. The report discusses how and to what extent these barriers have been lifted. This discussion includes an analysis of the new “app economy” launched by Apple, and explains why its dynamics will facilitate growth in the mHealth market. An important aspect of the new market revolves around awareness – the fact that the market has become used to purchasing content online and is aware of the potential for using the phone to obtain products and services.

To back up this discussion the report tracks smartphone penetration globally. Market penetration of the technology, as with the SMS, will be the primary driver that will cause significant growth of the mHealth market.

That the mobile application market is strong and growing is well established. Most smartphone users have taken the opportunity to download games or books, and the growth in the market is set to continue.

A surprising finding of the study is that although the healthcare and fitness categories on the app stores are not major categories like games are, they are nonetheless present on most app stores, there are some 17,000 mHealth applications in existence, and a very significant number of them target professionals. It is of course not surprising to find that people are downloading applications to help them lose weight or stick to their diets, to be coached with fitness programs and so, but it is a surprise to discover that medical education programs targeting physicians and nurses make up 14% of all healthcare related applications on the app stores. Taken in the context of the numerous consumer-facing applications available the proliferation of educational programs is very interesting. It seems that essential medical education such as CME is widely accessed by mobile devices by healthcare professionals, who clearly see the ease and convenience of obtaining credits in this way as an attractive option. When one adds to this the fact that the price for a healthcare application is quite high with ongoing expenses relating to obtaining credits this type of application is one of the most expensive types of application on the market, it seems that medical education via mobile is here to stay!

“The real opportunity lies in applications that provide for example remote monitoring, diagnostic tools and chronic disease management.”

Although today education and medical reference applications dominate “real” healthcare applications (that is healthcare as opposed to fitness and health), this will not be the case in three years time. The real opportunity lies in applications that provide for example remote monitoring, diagnostic tools and chronic disease management. In fact these types of applications are likely to break the Apple mould and become significant revenue generators as medical services replace downloads as the primary source of mHealth application income.

An important section of the report deals with the technology features in smartphones that will make a difference in healthcare. The information in this particular section allows the reader to gain insights about telecommunications and IT technology that will assist in developing a clear understanding of the potential uses and benefits of mobile health applications. The true potential of mobile applications will only be realized when the healthcare industry engages the new technology and begins to apply it to achieving their own objectives. Healthcare providers will use applications to cut costs, healthcare professionals will use them to improve patient outcomes, and healthcare industry manufacturers will use them as marketing tools. The market is currently characterized by new developers and start-ups who have little experience of what the healthcare industry really needs, but when the traditional major players in the healthcare market start to use applications and apply energy and imagination to the applications published it will usher in significant changes to the way that healthcare is delivered and funded.

About the author:

Robert is Head of Sales and Marketing at mobile research specialist research2guidance. research2guidance has recently published the “Mobile Health Market Report 2010 – 2015“, a comprehensive study on the new mHealth market that has developed in the wake of iPhone phenomenon. The report provides data, key market figures, technology trends and social trends and analysis on the mobile health market.

Robert has been active in academic and medical publishing for over a decade, and through his management of various projects, ranging from bespoke publishing for pharmaceutical clients to the publication of new textbooks for medical and nursing students in universities across the world, has developed a wealth of experience in delivering information to the healthcare industry.

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What changes can we expect in the mobile health market?