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Mobile Health Apps – A Cautious Boon?

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Mobile Health (mHealth) Applications for your smartphone, tablets, phablets, etc. are the next best thing in healthcare. We have moved from a recent push on enormous amounts of $$ being spent on Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR/EMR) to a new trend in the building of mHealth applications that are easily accessible to the consumer. In the US alone, a report  in 2011 indicated that spending was to surge to a massive $40B in Healthcare IT and at the time were focused solely on EHR/EMR’s.

Consider the attractiveness of lightweight Mobile Apps that are inexpensive, albeit less comprehensive but a lot more consumer friendly. The last Apple Worldwide Developers Conference was also indicative that Big Business believes there to be big money in mHealth. This isn’t news, as Microsoft, Google and others have been in this space for some time now.

With all the competitors in the mHealth space, how can you stand out from the crowd? Is there a strategic way to do so? mHealth Apps if done correctly can set the stage for a consumers to take ownership and control of their healthcare. This revolution has been a long time coming.

We need to first understand the landscape of mHealth Apps. The Institute for Healthcare Informatics, in Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare noted that there were close to 43,000 mHealth Apps available on iTunes in mid-2013.  Most provide only information and 16,275 deal with health and treatment. This number has since grown and with Apple’s recent announcement, is bound to grow further with their strategic partnerships with the Mayo Clinic, IBM and Epic Systems. Detailed statistics on Mobile Apps are available at Statistic Brain.

A few strategic steps to consider are:

1 – Evidence (Data) – Use evidence to drive the development of a mobile app, as the platform is only a delivery mechanism. Consider the recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine by Nathan Cortez that asks if apps need to be regulated by the FDA to ensure they are safe and effective to use. In addition, Eric Topol also warns us of apps not having any validated data compared to accepted reference standards.

iphone apps

2 – Partner up – If you are a healthcare professional looking to develop an mHealth app, get the right development as well as design partner to help you. Conversely, if you are a designer or a developer and are looking to develop a novel mHealth App, get a health professional to partner up. To be clear it does not have to be a partnership of equity, just a partner that can help with the expertise of their subject matter be it through an equity position or through term contracts.

3 – Design for the Consumer – Healthcare professionals are tireless champions for health and I have the utmost respect for them. Designers know how to design for the consumer and their visual needs. The healthcare professional knows their consumers health needs. A group of potential users to help you through the design process will bring rigour to the final product.

4 – Marketing – If you build it, they may not come. If mHealth Apps need to reach the masses, they need to be marketed appropriately to the targeted audiences. This could take the form of partnerships with other healthcare professionals for their patients to media coverage through industry specific publications, mass media, newspapers, social media influencers, etc. to ensure a wider access and distribution medium.  Marketing takes resources and funding partners need to understand that without marketing, the app may not be used.

In the Maritimes we have seen the mobile space develop quite quickly in healthcare, with Dr. Dunbar, an Orthopedic Surgeon at Capital District Health Authority currently developing a Gait Monitoring System, hoping to reduce wait times for in-hospital appointments garnering the same information via the App, along with exercise videos, diets, etc. Dr. Kutcher, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and a Psychiatrist with the IWK Health Centre had the Transitions app (http://teenmentalhealth.org/transitions) developed for youth transitioning from the school system to post-secondary education providing for a free resource that has been widely used across Canada. You will also find Apps from all the major pharmacies and some from private first responders within the market. That said, there are a lot more in the pipeline that will be available soon.

-Ashwin Kutty

Full disclosure: I am the President & CEO of WeUsThem Inc. and we are in the business of designing & developing mobile applications including mHealth Apps. I will be at the Medicine 2.0 World Congress in Spain & Maui this year talking about Business in Healthcare if you would like to join me.

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2 thoughts on “Mobile Health Apps – A Cautious Boon?

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