mHealth Monthly Mashup: release 13.0 – mobile health reality check: transcending the hype and tapping what sticks

Michael Spitz

Zemoga

Michael Spitz looks through the hype surrounding mobile health and questions whether this emerging channel is as game changing as it’s made out to be.

Americans are addicted to bubbles, enraptured by the oscillation of trillions of dollars that seemingly appear from nowhere only to vanish equally suddenly and mysteriously. From tech to real estate to tech again, experts who should know better indulge nanosecond memories and deep pockets that pump markets to bursting. Most lose everything, while a few sinistral players lurk in the wings, buying and shorting stocks simultaneously, creepy in their capacity to make millions from the rise and fall of entire industries.

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“Is this emerging channel as revolutionary and game changing as the entrepreneurs seeking venture capital make it out to be?”

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So it comes as no surprise that pundits just this past week have speculated that the next digital bubble is ready to rip, christening “Tech Wreck 2.0” as the shares of Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, and Netflix plummet precipitously. The cause? Shudders of reality shattering the illusion that money can actually be made from social media, and that growth is somehow sustainable within fragmented, speculative technologies where entire markets transform faster than the fastest startups can catch their breath and begin to live up to their own hype.

But is such financial fatalism true? The negative whiplash has been sweeping and almost ludicrous, Apple with its market cap of $600 billion now prematurely seen by some as the next domino to fall. For over a year we’ve been covering trends and tech in mobile health, so in the wake of all this skepticism perhaps now is the apropos time to ask: Is actual #mhealth adoption commensurate to our enthusiasm, and is this emerging channel as revolutionary and game changing as the entrepreneurs seeking venture capital make it out to be?

True or false: mobile health is a good investment

Depends on the company. The National Venture Capital Association estimates that investment in health IT companies increased 78% from 2010 to 2011. During the first quarter of 2012 alone, 27 of these companies received more than $184 million in funding to create technologies and applications in diverse areas ranging from cardiology to connectivity to biometrics and data analytics. But all this begs the question of whether any of these firms have actually showed positive return on investment.

Some allege that the current pay-per-download business model can never, by its nature, become lucrative. Instead, subscription-based services involving #mhealth integration into sophisticated diagnostics, treatment, and adherence programs could hold the key. Guidance and regulation will lead to an elite and more expensive class of mobile health devices from fewer and more specialized companies, paving the way for a tighter oligarchy with increased profitability for those companies able to innovate and improvise.

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“Consumers are warming up to mobile health to an extent that outstrips the engagement of their healthcare professionals.”

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True or false: consumers are enthusiastic adopters of mobile health

Depends on the consumer. As the Pew Internet and American Life Project recently reported, 88% of Americans have smartphones, but only 10% have downloaded (let alone used or regularly use) health apps — a percentage adoption that hasn’t changed since 2010, despite the nearly five-fold increase in the number of available #mhealth apps. The reason? Brian Dolan of mobihealthnews interprets the cause as too many apps for fitness and activity tracking, and not enough designed to tackle chronic diseases.

But according to a PwC-commissioned report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), consumers are warming up to mobile health to an extent that outstrips the engagement of their healthcare professionals. In fact, of those patients using #mhealth, 59% said they have used it to replace visits to doctors and nurses, and nearly half expect their health apps to change how they manage chronic conditions (48%), their medication (48%), their overall health and wellness (49%), and even how they communicate with physicians (48%).

True or false: healthcare professionals are enthusiastic adopters of mobile health

Depends on the physician. From resistance to behavioral and technological change (nearly half surveyed say mobile health is incompatible with their legacy workplace IT systems), to fear of giving up control at the point of care and beyond (42% fear #mhealth makes patients too independent), to excitement about the idea of mobile health but skepticism about the feasibility of its execution, physicians surprisingly enough trail their own patients when it comes to mobile health enthusiasm, utilization, and hope for the future.

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“The destiny of mobile health not only seems strong, but inextricably combined with the future of all healthcare.”

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Despite these hurdles, other reports corroborate the notion that physician adoption is actually outpacing software and hardware development. With more than 80% of doctors using mobile devices at the point of care, limitations have more to do with infrastructure, availability, and compatibility with entrenched systems such as EHR than unwillingness on the part of doctors to embrace the channel. As the FDA increasingly steps into the game with guidance and discussions swirl around certification, standardization and barriers will fall.

Conclusion: look beyond the moment to embrace the inevitable

As David Byrne sang “Facts are simple and facts are straight / Facts are lazy and facts are late / Facts all come with points of view / Facts don’t do what I want them to.” As such, the current state and future fate of mobile health often seems to depend on the whims of the researcher or the latest survey or market research assessment. But if we follow the inexorable trends of technology, behavior, and medicine, the destiny of mobile health not only seems strong, but inextricably combined with the future of all healthcare.

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European-CME-Forum-15-16-November-2012

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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.

Is the destiny of mhealth inextricably combined with the future of all healthcare?