mHealth Monthly Mashup: Release 21.0 – The Commercialization of Mobile Health

This month’s mashup takes a snapshot of the current mobile health landscape and significant milestones in entrepreneurship, innovation, and regulation…

If you had any doubts about the potential of mobile health, an astonishing report recently published by Research2Guidance surveys the current mhealth landscape, projects engagement and revenue into the near future, and offers an almost Hegelian teleological analysis of its phased development. A few bullets that may blow your mind include:

• More than 97,000 mobile health apps are currently available in 62 app stores, where the top 10 mobile health apps generate 4 million free and 300,000 paid downloads daily, the vast majority health and fitness apps that track activity and provide some motivational support.
• Consumer-focused health and wellness apps account for 85% of all downloads and medical providers about 15%, overall quality of these apps low to medium, with generally limited benefit to patients and professionals due to multiple factors, including lack of integration.
• Growth is expected to exceed 61% in five years, when 50% of an incredible 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will download 1.7 billion mobile health apps and generate more than $26 billion in revenue in paid downloads (9%) and hardware and services (84%).

The report gives context to the current and projected mobile health space by dividing its growth into an exploratory trial phase, a midstream commercialization phase (where we are now), and a future integration phase. Based on my personal experience working as a medical editor and eCommerce director at PEPID more than a decade ago, the “trial phase” operated in a “mobile” world devoid of Internet connectivity and with few if any portable sensing devices, one where PDAs with limited interactivity awkwardly synched with desktop computers and overall healthcare professional adoption remained stubbornly low.

The current mobile health commercialization phase, refreshingly “characterized by a massive increase of offered solutions, the creation of new business models and the concentration on private, health-interested people, patients and corporations as major target groups” has revolutionized the space and the practice of medicine along with it. Propelled by the mobile explosion engendered thanks to the Apple iPad, we’re experiencing interesting times indeed, as entrepreneurship, innovation, and the sheer volume of apps and resources boggle the mind and are impossible to even keep up with.

As we’ve discussed in last month’s column, mobile health guidance and regulation loom large, an opportunity and an obstacle to entering what the Research2Guidance report characterizes as the “integration phase,” when mobile health will inevitably enter traditional health distributions channels. At that stage mobile tools and services will largely be paid for by insurance companies and managed care providers interested in reducing costs through optimized diagnostics, heightened patient adherence, and improved health and wellness programs that dovetail into preventative medicine impacting acute and especially chronic conditions. Along the way, the American government has begun to offer powerful incentives for adoption including meaningful use—a game changer that could and hopefully will help propel integration from the top, down.

But for now, let’s take a closer look at a few trends influencing the commercialization of mobile health, and consider how they impact the space.

Startup Incubators are Just Getting Started
Analogous to the beginning of every tech and communications bubble from the birth of the Web through the hype and hysteria surrounding broadband communications, social media, the cloud, and now mobile, mhealth is already attracting incredible quantities of venture capital. The question, of course, is where can all this money be put to best use? Since mobile health requires equal parts health, communications, and technological expertise, the complexities mount just as the probabilities shrink for starting something that results in a solution that is effective, utilized, and sustainable.

 

“Patients and healthcare professionals aren’t shopping they are problem solving, often in life and death situations.”

 

From expert consortiums like Rock Health to small, highly specialized incubators like Casual Corp, mobile health startups are starting up with tremendous diversity and in record numbers, being showcased at TEDMED, and capturing the attention of the industry. With buyers ultimately driving the business, governmental regulation and incentives looming, expect to see more, not less of these incubators rise and fall, merge and split, and ultimately drive the mobile health market to a point of inevitable consolidation and integration—brought to you by entrepreneurs and innovators, but eventually paid for by insurance companies and managed care providers.

Welcome to the iTunes of Mobile Health!
Patients and healthcare professionals aren’t shopping they are problem solving, often in life and death situations. The tools and resources they seek on their quest for wellness are therefore markedly different in both form and content from those sought after by the consumer of packaged goods or luxury services. That makes mobile health apps an entirely different animal than any other type of digital asset, needing to be distributed, certified, and peer-reviewed on niche platforms and in a manner unique to the industry and its segments.

Addressing that need during our stage of mobile health commercialization are companies like Happtique, dedicated to providing physicians with specialized distribution channels, authoritative content, certified tech, and peer-reviewed tools necessary to ensure optimal outcomes and patient safety. And while physicians are being empowered to actually prescribe certified mobile health apps at the point of care, major telecons such as AT&T are similarly embracing the chance to launch their own networks and explore the possibilities.

Cloudy with a Chance of Mobile Health
If mobile health is set to skyrocket to more than $26 billion in revenue by 2017, then cloud computing—the essential tech infrastructure necessary for fostering and sustaining true integration—is poised to meet that challenge with projections of $5.4 billion within five years. Hardly a day goes by without a pivotal app such as WellDoc advocating procedural and technological best practices for EHR integration, a major milestone for evolving mobile health out of its fragmented quagmire and into the realm of a genuine patient and physician-focused, full 360 degree service.

 

“Mobile health, like most other emerging tech, goes through three phases of development: Trial, commercialization, and integration.”

As developers in verticals outside of healthcare have known for years, migrating applications from web-based to native is logical and inevitable. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and every significant IT player have understood that our hardware journey from desktop to laptop to smartphone to tablet will culminate in our devices being mere connection points to the cloud, offering all of us complete mobility, limitless storage, and endless customization. In healthcare terms the endpoint is the fully quantified self, impossible without such a scalable infrastructure. The risk of Big Data is Big Brother, of course, which is why privacy concerns and regulation, like it or not, remain top of mind throughout. Along the way we can at least usher in the age of integration knowing the solutions lie above, not below.

Summary and Key Takeaways
Mobile health, like most other emerging tech, goes through three phases of development: Trial, commercialization, and integration. We’re currently in the throes of the second, commercialization phase, an exciting albeit somewhat chaotic stage where startups proliferate, niche distribution platforms grow, and cloud-based infrastructure is vital. While we await more comprehensive and definitive regulation on both the local and international levels, and various governments work toward creating incentives for adoption, a future where mobile health becomes the central tool for health, wellness, prevention, and treatment lies only a few years away.

 

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About the author:

Michael Spitz is SVP, Managing Director of the Healthcare and LifeSciences division of ZEMOGA. Spitz combines his passion for technology with more than 15 years of clinical content expertise to help engineer digital healthcare solutions. Follow @SpitzStrategy on Twitter for his daily – often hourly – updates on all things digital for the ultimate benefit of patients worldwide.

What do you think is the commercialization of mobile health?