How Mobile Can Impact the Future of Healthcare

on September 27, 2013

I recently received a very interesting info-graphic sent to me from the folks at Greatcall with a lot of stats explaining something called mHealth. mHealth or Mobile Health is a term used for the practice of medicine and public health, supported by mobile devices.

Last year, when I had my triple bypass and was in the hospital for almost two weeks, during the times I was conscious I would often see the doctors and nurses come in to my room with smartphones, tablets, and various other mobile devices used to monitor my vitals as well as look up info related to my condition. In fact, I observed many doctors carrying iPad Mini’s in their white coats and was told that the # 1 application they used on their tablet was the Physician Desk Reference, which is their medicine reference bible of choice. In their world, mobile devices have become quite important to their practice.

Here are some of the numbers from the report that stand out:

-There are 97,000 Mobile apps related to health and fitness

-52% of smartphone users gather health-related information on their phones

-40% of Physicians believe mHealth technologies can reduce the number of visits to the doctor’s office

-More than 25% of physicians are using mobile technology to provide patient care

-80% of physicians use smartphones and medical apps

-93% of physicians find value having a mobile health app connected to Emergency Health.

-Mobile Health Apps generate up to 4 million free and 300K paid downloads a day

-By 2017, 50% of all smartphone users will have downloaded mobile health apps

-Top mHealth downloads are Weight Loss, Exercise, woman’s health, sleep and meditation, pregnancy, tools and instruments

At the moment, the top selling dedicated mHealth devices are products like the Nike Fuel, Jawbone’s Up, Fitbit, Misfits Shine etc. They are being used by people of all ages to monitor things likes steps taken, sleep patterns, calories burned and depending on device, you gain points the more active you are and the goal is to get as many points per day as close to your goals.

The Role of Wearables in Health and Fitness

I have found wearable health monitoring devices invaluable during my recovery and they will play a major role in my continued quest for better health. In fact I wear the Nike Fuel, Misfit Shine and Fitbit all the time in order to keep a close eye on my progress. In essence they have become important motivators as I take seriously their points programs and continue to try and beat my records as often as I can. While a lot of people run and play very active sports, I am afraid that my running and active sports days are pretty much over. I use to run 5 miles three times a week but many years ago my knees gave out and that is not an option any more. So, I walk.

The app I use for this is an app called MapMyWalk. I wish my wearable devices recorded my walking distance but they only handle steps walked and to be honest, the amount of steps recorded on the three wearable devices I use are all different. But the MapMyWalk app is tied to my phone’s GPS radio so it precisely records my distance as well as time per mile run or walked, which is also a great motivator. I also use an app called Heart Rate that uses the camera on my smartphone to record my pulse during my walks.

While fitness based mobile monitors are a good first step in mHealth devices, the promise of mobile connected devices to assist in all types of medically related issues is where the real promise lies. We are already seeing Wifi based blood testing monitors being designed that would send a running tally of daily blood sugar readings for diabetics to their doctors or nurse practioneers so that they can monitor the numbers and adjust insulin or oral medicines as needed.

Mobile Implications for mHealth

All of the mobile smart phone device makers and service providers see mHealth as a major opportunity and have various programs in the works to make sure their devices can be used for mHealth purposes. But there are two developments from Apple that I am the most interested in. The first comes with Apple hiring Jay Blahnik, a fitness expert who advised Nike on the Nike Fuel Band. While details of what he will actually do at Apple is sketchy, it is most likely that he is working on adding the fitness component to Apple rumored iWatch. The Nike fuel is unique among fitness trackers in that while it handles steps and calories burned, it also tells time.

The second major development is the introduction of the M7 chip in the new iPhone 5C. In a meeting with Apple execs, they pointed out that this chip continually monitors motion data. It has an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass and will enable a new generation of health and fitness apps. It has a new Core API so that developers can take full advantage of chip, which includes tracking users ID measurements and optimizations based on contextual awareness. Techcrunch did a nice piece on the M7 and over at GigaOM Chris Brandick suggests it is Apple’s Trojan Horse for future wearable devices.

Interestingly, I would not be surprised if Apple even releases a dedicated mobile fitness device using the M7 ahead of any iWatch since Apple CEO Tim Cook has become a real fan of the Nike Fuel Band and I am sure he has had some ideas of his own on how to improve on it as a dedicated device in its own right.

According to a new study from Transparency Market Research the “global mHealth market is expected to reach USD 10.2 billion by 2018 from USD 1.3 billion in 2012 at a CAGR of 41.5% from 2012 to 2018.” If they are correct, growth in this market will be strong for at least the next five years. The report also states that “The most impactful trend witnessed in the mHealth market is the growth in remote patient monitoring. Remote monitoring of patients can help reduce costs significantly by reducing the amount of time the patient spends in hospitals and also by lowering the frequency of follow-up visits to the physician. In addition, quick service and ease of use functionalities, and rising healthcare expenditure are supporting faster adoption of mHealth applications. Moreover, increasing demand for independent aging solutions and post-acute care services are also aiding the mHealth market growth.”

Any market with $10 billion potential is worth watching but this market has more than a financial appeal tied to it. The mHealth market represents a most important way to deal with health issues and makes mobile technology highly strategic to our overall well-being too.