Blog Post

Mobile Health Apps Are on the Rise

The health care sector is in the early stages of a potentially disruptive era, with technological change in the industry being driven by the growth of smartphones and the number of connected devices readily available. More and more, apps are assuming a larger role in the system. There are currently over 6,000 health- and medicine-related apps in the Apple App Store, and, as we discuss in a new report at GigaOM Pro, mobile health is creating new possibilities for clinicians and patients to manage their care and track important health information.

Though still a somewhat loosely defined term, The World Health Organization calls mHealth “an area of electronic health (eHealth)” that is “the provision of health services and information via mobile technologies such as mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).” Mobile Health Initiative (mHI) founder Peter Waegemann, in speaking at the mHI event in Washington, D.C. this year, said that mHealth “focuses on behavioral and structural changes.” Whereas eHealth is focused on technology to drive the change, “the vision for mHealth includes collecting data through text, images, emails and supporting patient-hood. As more and more connected devices come to market, we expect the definition of mHealth to broaden in scope.

Where are mobile health apps making an impact? The iPad is one area. The device’s high-resolution screen allows for diagnosis through the use of medical imaging applications. Stanford University School of Medicine, for instance, is now using the device for instruction with first-year medical students. Others are using the device to combine electronic medical records (EMRs) with a range of other clinical tools, and we may see more use of the iPad as EMR devices and medical imaging converge to create a platform for a physician-patient interface.

On the consumer side of the industry, smartphones are impacting behavioral change in patients: A growing number of apps exist that help individuals track nutritional and fitness levels, and patients can often use this data to link, via social networking, to individuals with similar health goals and/or illnesses. Social networking-related projects are growing by the day, in fact. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, co-sponsors TuAnalyze, a site for tracking, sharing and analyzing data on hemoglobin A1c levels by diabetics. The site’s mapping tools allow users to see how their geographic area matches up with other regions of the country. The use of an online social network is mobilized to encourage diabetics to monitor themselves and motivate individuals in their region or neighborhood to do the same.

The key question is how much are people willing to pay for these applications, and who will use the data to drive behavioral change in a manner that makes economic sense. Research on everything from cardiovascular disease to asthma is showing the connection between the environment and health outcomes. An early signal of what might be possible in this space is the platform Asthmapolis. Asthmapolis is a GPS inhaler-tracker app that enables users to track their own asthma conditions. The technology contributes to the public health understanding of the connections between asthma and place (where environmental triggers may be greater in some locations versus others).

If we think about mHealth in a more expansive manner, we can see how the insights from psychology, behavioral economics, persuasive technologies and neurology can be used to inform app development in ways that could revolutionize how we think about behavioral change. For the most part, the paradigms used in the health care arena for behavioral change remain woefully behind the times. What development of mHealth apps could inadvertently do is open a space for cross-fertilization of the health sciences with other disciplines — neuroanthropology, persuasive technology and behavioral economics, for instance. It could also have more impact on how we think about behavioral change for health as much as technology itself.

Read the full report here.

8 Responses to “Mobile Health Apps Are on the Rise”

    • Kevin I wrote a program on FM Pro 10.3 Adv and It would not upload and run on the I pad i tried. Are you positive.. then I presume it would also run on the I Pod as well since you say it can run on I Pad.. Norman

    • Kevin you have to upload the scripts to I Pad Go, what i am talking about is taking my medical database program and uploading it to the I pad so it will be interactive and you can add data to it, this i know can not be done on the I Pad, am I correct in this ?

  1. While the I pad can be a great tool it falls short because you can’t use FileMaker Pro run times on it and funny Filemaker is an Apple product.. If that could be done then you would have a great bedside tool for the doctors to use in conjunction with my award winning Portable EMR Medi-Program.. Where are all the brains when we really need them?????

  2. Yes you are right on the number of applications for mobile healthcare and in a couple of posts last week I started asking when is someone going to start aggregating these programs? This is not a new concept as if you go back to Microsoft and Office becoming a suite, it just needs some type of work on the mobile side.

    Also you mention the inhaler project. There’s another one out there that as been around a little longer which is a blue tooth inhaler platform that could be combined with this one and the GPS capabilities. This is just one example of combing like technologies and perhaps we will end up a little less fragmented.

    Here’s one more model that I posted recently too with the ability to put your body on a network and stream your EKG, which may or may not interest folks, it’s a stretch out there but who knows as it grows if one will work with a PHR API and eventually port it into the patient record, too early to say but for now it’s kind of entertaining. The participatory sensing studies at UCLA are important too so we don’t all end up going out of our minds with too many disruptions and can still function and do our jobs too:)

  3. mHealth and eHealth apps are great, but we won’t understand their full potential until family physicians digitize their medical records. The majority of health care is delivered at the primary care level, yet less than 30% of family physicians use an electronic medical record system…charting is still done in paper format. Lets not put the cart before the horse, we need to digitize the family physician office, which will then allow specialists, hospitals, and patients, to access medical records. A physician’s role is to collect, process and disseminate information, and until technology can help this process, we won’t get a real appreciation for how eHealth apps can truly help the health care system.

    • Patrick, I agree.
      The challenge is integrating mobile platforms with medical smart networks. I understand the likes of IBM are designing/building smart networks within a hospital context. Question is how is the patient’s smartphone goind to integrate with that network for synchronising their personal health record. More work to be done!