Smartphone Apps and the Healthcare Setting

The smartphone is very prevalent today in healthcare. Why? Because clinicians, especially physicians, are much more comfortable with their smartphones than computers. Smartphones are obviously mobile and portable in nature, and they are much more accessible than the computers that are in their offices or homes. Business Insider author, John Heggestuen, reported in December 2013 that their research predicted a 22% global ownership rate of smartphones by the end of 2013– up from 5% in 2009.

 Though this doesn’t sound like high saturation, it is important to take into account that these are global numbers and third-world countries are included in the population count. According to Information Week, physicians and mid-levels in the United States are using smartphones at a very high percentage in their practices – approximately 86%.

It is becoming clear that, as a general population, we will also be using more smartphone medical or mHealth applications (apps) in the future. Marco Smit, president of Health 2.0 Advisors noted in an interview with Maura Keller, published in For The Record, “The smartphone is the No. 1 vehicle to influence, engage, and educate the patient postdischarge,” Smit says. “We are making some progress with this in the field, but we still have a long way to go.”

These apps have not escaped the notice of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) , Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FDA just issued its report to Congress regarding its plan to provide oversight to health IT – this includes mobile medical apps. The FDA, along with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and FCC, recommended that they provide greater clarity around the mobile medical apps and referred back to the FDA report from last September.  That report noted that the FDA intends to provide oversight to only those apps that “can transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device by using attachments, display screens, sensors, or other such methods.”

So, if the smartphone is the connector of the future – and the current day – then what does that market look like?

I took the Research2Guidance’s 4th Global mHealth App Developer Survey to contribute and to find out what the results are (to date) of the survey. Though I didn’t get to see all the answers to the questions, such as what types of apps, effects of app use, etcetera, I did get to see that most of the apps (63%) developed and offered reported downloads of 5,000 or less. As far as revenue, which is predicted to be a major issue with app development, 47% reported no revenue followed by 23% with less than $10,000 in revenue. Apple’s Healthbook, in development now, has sparked conversations on the industry in general. Who could take the lead in the industry? What integration will be available? And, my favorite, will it lead us further down the path of consumerism in healthcare?

Overall, the trend of using smartphones will increase for both patients and providers. The drivers behind the use will vary by the different population and disease groups. For example, diabetes apps are the most popular apps in the disease state category.  The general population is using more health/fitness/nutrition apps and providers are using apps that give education and information, such as Epocrates.

We’re becoming mobile communities with the increasing numbers of smartphone users nationwide and globally. This enables us to access information about diseases and symptoms literally in our hands and even makes communication via email and texting almost immediate with our healthcare providers. Personalized health information is readily available via the health apps for our own health management and for sharing with providers to enhance the care we receive.  Mobile health is the direction of the future.

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