Thursday, August 28, 2014

Riding the titanic wave of mobile health apps

Thanks blackberrycool.com for this image
A recent MIT report By Nanette Byrnes aptly titled 'Mobile Health's Growing Pains' and referencing Endeavour Consultancy Partners research has identified that mobile health technology solutions are yet to be fully accepted by consumers.

You know the ones I mean...im talking about the new health apps on your iphone or Samsung and the wristbands like FitBit and Jawbone and all the other 'solutions' that are being advertised widely at the moment.  So what to health industry stakeholders like us need to be aware of?  Here is my take...

The report identifies that while entrepreneurs and investment organisations are throwing money at these new ideas, the most important group 'consumers/patients' are still yet to be fully convinced. 

In a follow up article by Dan Verel (Medcitynews.com), he comments that while the report identifies one in 10 Americans owns some sort of health tracking device, from FitBit to Nike to Jawbone,  more than half of those devices are no longer being used by the patient.

The report and follow up article both report that with respect to mobile applications, while more than 100,000 are available, but “very few” have been downloaded 500 times, while more than two-thirds of consumers have stopped using the apps, according to a PWC report.

In addition the MIT report identifies that since the start of 2013, more than $750 million in venture capital has been invested in companies that do everything from turn your smartphone into a blood pressure gauge to snapping medical–quality images of the inner ear. Apple, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and other corporate giants are creating mobile health products and investing in startups.

This feels to me like a small scale version of the 2000's internet boom where money was being thrown around wildly for any 'good idea', in the hope of getting market leader advantage.  These initial ideas are sold as being appealing for all and they are sold on the promise of health, rather than a known understanding that they are the right solution for you.

This is because they are not actually properly tested on the people who are going to utimately use them.  Wild assumptions are made of an app that appeals to everybody rather than specific niches.  Or they are not properly tested to see how long they are going to be useful for.  This is just a normal part of the 'new technology' cycle.

Mobile apps will certainly have a big place in the future and it is great to have the new ideas becoming real, but the market has a long way to go to mature and have products that consumers want and find useful.  At the moment we still have a lot of 'coverall apps' that a expected to appeal to everybody for everything. 

But there certainly are those that are being developed with more specific uses and target groups in mind and this is a further step in the right direction.  For those of us working in health, its important not to get overawed by the excitement of these trends, but to stay aware of the good things that are being done so we can spot the opportunities when they arise (in my mind at least, anyway).  I believe that as next steps we need to better understand who actually wants to use apps, what specifically they want to use them for, how long they might need the app for and how they need it to look and feel.

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