mHealth – Beyond “There’s an app for that”

“There’s an app for that” popularizes the fact that over 1 million apps for smartphones and tablets have been developed to address anything, from small to complex, that people may want to do. In the world of mobile health, or mHealth, we’re prone to agree.

According to IMS Health, there are over 23,000 healthcare-related apps covering numerous clinical areas (from primary care to surgery), care sites (from home to acute care), users (from patients, to caregivers, to clinicians) and parts of the patient journey (from wellness to complex chronic disease). And, a recent study we conducted found that 70 percent of people use mobile apps on a daily basis to track calorie intake and monitor physical activities.

But the view of the mHealth world as just a proliferation of apps, while exciting and important, is flawed in several ways:

  1. It ignores the fact that while apps may be primary user touch points in a mobile-connected world, they are not the only ones.
  2. It leaves people with the idea that all you have to do to solve a problem is build an app.  Often, the solution is much broader.

Healthcare is evolving beyond “there’s an app for that.” Here’s what’s happening…

The world of mHealth is colliding with other technology evolutions in healthcare – including connected health, wireless sensors and devices, genomics, social networking, imaging, big data and health information systems. For example, the AliveCor Heart Monitor is a device that can be attached to a mobile phone so cardiologists can capture patient ECGs no matter where they are.  Dr. Eric Topol, author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine, even used this device to diagnose a patient on a plane – twice.  While AliveCor created an app to display the ECG, the real solution was mobile diagnostic ECG.  So you could add a new expression: “there’s a mobile device for that.” It’s not sexy… but you get the point.

More user touch points exist through the growing volume of wearables and sensors that can collect biometric and physiological data including steps, sleep, stress and vital signs.  It’s telling that companies like Apple (M7 chip), Google (Glass – used for remote surgery, among other things) and Samsung (Gear) are getting into healthcare along with startups (who actually led the charge).  In the near future,  you could hear “there’s a sensor for that” or “there’s a wearable for that.

Lastly, these devices are generating data that may need to be integrated with other data—such as images, electronic health records, genetic profiles, or even lifestyle data—to draw new insights into what impacts the health of an individual or a population. Will we soon hear “there’s a database for that?” Maybe these databases won’t incorporate all of this converging data, but different databases are starting to come merge previously disparate sets of data.

In conclusion, as “traditional” mHealth merges with these other worlds, the solutions to today’s healthcare challenges are becoming more integrated and sophisticated. So, the next time you think about mHealth… think outside the app.

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