Turning mHealth applications into services

Swallowing antibiotics prescribed by my doctor to treat bronchitis, I imagined how nice it could be if my doctor noticed the effect immediately. I may cut on antibiotics in case fever drops or, on the contrary, take more appropriate measures in case it jumps up. I should not wait in complete uncertainty for the next visit .

Working in IT my first thought would be to use some fancy application. But as a patient with a fever all I need is help. I needed services vs. just pumping my application with data nobody cares about except myself.

We are feeding our mHealth apps with multiple isolated data such as temperature, blood pressure or even ECG, but without constructive follow-ups this is just a trash that provokes more questions than constructive actions. Is it not the cause of consumers’ disillusionment in mHealth apps?

According to the results of Research2Guidance mHealth App Developer Economics 2016 study, the demand for mHealth applications is decreasing, while their offer is increasing. A total of 3.2B downloads are expected in 2016 with 259,000 mHealth apps listed on major app stores. A total increase of +7% compared to 2015 which is a significant drop down compared to 35% and 36% mHealth application growth in 2014 and 2013.


Can such a trend be reversed?

Allow Hospital Information Systems to collaborate with patients.

The Hospital Information Systems (HIS) were initially focused on supporting inner hospital procedures such as access to Labs and Pharma, clinical data repositories (CDR), nursing/clinical documentation, computerizing Practitioner Order Entries (CPOE) thus creating a collaboration environment within medical staff. The trend is still sustainable. While consumers are more ready to accept mHealth applications to monitor Health conditions and share it with their doctors, studies show that medical community is still more conservative in enrolling patients’ data into the care process.

Thus 77% of US consumers, according to RockHeal+t study, are eager to share their health information to get a better care from their doctor. Medical staff, on the contrary, continue seeing more value in physician-to-physician and nurse-to-physician communications. This was highlighted by 78% of medical staff according to Spok’s annual Mobility in Healthcare Survey.

Of course, there is much less risk in pumping a standalone application with patients’ health data vs. integrating such data into medical procedures. The validity of information, the reliability of devices that generated data as well as the trustworthiness of applications is still much to be desired. But the value of such information is lower: if mHealth apps will not entail adequate health services the overall mHealth disillusionment will grow.

Advanced analytics in consumer apps.

Most of consumers mHealth apps are primitive data repositories  still waiting for analytical engines to process floods of confusing data. They will collect your blood pressure or glucose level for months and years. Alas, those regularly collected and averaged observations still do not suggest how to improve personal health results. The majority of today’s consumer health apps are unable to interpret relationships between the vast spectrum of personal health data in order to finally build a full picture of the health puzzle – to improve either an individual’s daily habits or health treatment.

No surprise that after several months of diligently collecting it, the enthusiasm is fading and users stop downloading the apps. A study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) shows that even patients who do see value in smartphone and tablet apps nevertheless stop engaging with the devices within 6 months. More than forty percent said that tracking and monitoring apps required too much time to input necessary data, while a similar number simply said that their interest faded over time.

Adoption of wearable sensor technologies in care procedures.

Wearable devices enabling consumers to “ quantify self” are originating floods of mHealth apps. The Global Wearable Sensors Market according to Mordor Intelligence Survey will grow from $3.75 billion in 2014 to $14.75 billion by 2020, at a projected CAGR of 25.7% “Smart Pills Technologies Market (2012-2017)”; the report forecasts the global smart pills market to reach $965 million by the year 2017 whereas Gartner expects shipments in the smart garment category to jump from 0.1 million units in 2014 to 26 million units in 2016.


Devices and apps such as AliveCor Kardia Mobile that provides one channel ECG results in 30 secs with the help of a sensor attached to the mobile phone; a t-shirt developed by the University of Aveiro in Portugal and the Israeli “Moked Enosh” that records the heart activity over a number of hours transmitting it via a smart phone from a patient to a cardiologist; the smart patch created by researchers of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, that can be stuck to the skin for continuous EMG and EEG monitoring – all those technologies will generate thousands of mHealth applications and data. Will hospital information systems be ready to encompass data from all those devices for early diagnostics and personalized therapy? Currently only 8% of US hospitals covered by Spok survey supported wearables in their organizations.

 Adequate infrastructure to support mHealth application services.

An adequate infrastructure including secure data storage, sharing and analysis is still one of the major blockers preventing hospitals from the efficient use of mHealth applications. While most of mHealth app developers already use the existing vendor platforms such as Apple HealthKit (69%), Google Fit (44%) or Samsung S-Health (18%), many hospitals are still locked within their own world. The absence of a secure infrastructure allowing the hospital staff to integrate patient’s experience across care was identified by 54% out of 550+ US hospitals.

Conclusion: As a person I would not object to becoming a guinea pig for new devices and applications and change my behavior to manage my health. But I would expect the adequate behavior change on behalf of my physicians. Me – to track my blood pressure, BMI, heart rate, etc. to better handle my own health, my physician – to provide better diagnostics and personalized therapy. It will be critical over the next coming years to turn mHealth consumers’ apps into patient centric services, in particular, by integrating them into healthcare processes and systems.


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