The growing uptake of digital health applications on smartphones is radically changing the way healthcare is delivered, according to Frost & Sullivan.
Accessing health information on mobile devices will soon be the new standard, and health apps will play an ever increasing role in this system, the company said. Health apps can not only perform relatively simple tasks, such as counting calories, but also help consumers and healthcare professionals track, monitor, and share personal-health information for a variety of increasingly complex conditions, including heart failure, respiratory illness, and mental illness.
F&S estimates that in 2011, there were roughly 17,000 health-related applications for iPhones, Android-based devices, and other smartphones and tablets.
Currently, simple apps that are easily downloadable for smartphones or tablets constitute the majority of mHealth-related apps. They require relatively unsophisticated tools and calculators with lower-levels of security and analytics than apps intended for healthcare professionals.
Despite the promising future of mobile health apps, there are several issues that have to be addressed before patients and doctors can truly enjoy the benefits of mobile health.
“Achieving sustained health outcome depends on consumer engagement with health treatments,” said F&S research analyst Malgorzata Filar. “Many chronic conditions require careful adherence to voluntary behaviours, such as monitoring nutrition, managing weight, and exercising healthy choices.”
She notes that the best piloted programs often fail because these lifestyle changes are hard to follow consistently over a continued period of time.
Another obstacle comes from physicians who may not encourage or even dissuade patients from the use of mHealth apps. Clinicians fear that as consumers become empowered with information about price, quality, services, and wait times, doctors will lose control over revenues and how medicine is practiced.
F&S said doctors are afraid that the traditional role of the doctor as a guide to health treatments will weaken as consumers rely on mobile health apps or access websites on their smartphones to direct their own healthcare.
While tablets and smartphones combined with mobile apps have the potential to improve patient care, apps should provide some clinical decision-making data to truly add any value to the quality of care. However, without quality clinical research to back them up, they may be a waste of IT resources.
Nevertheless, with telehealth and at-home care for the aging emerging as new care delivery models, rising adoption of mobile devices and advancing mobile technology, the demand for mHealth apps will continue to grow.
"With more personalized, sophisticated, web-based healthcare applications there is a promising market for health apps developers and technology vendors," says Ms Filar.
“With the huge influx of medical data from sensors and other devices, there will be an increased need for advanced data analytics tools and companies focused on data management,” said Filar. “The business around mHealth should thrive and become mutually beneficial for all involved."