In typical English understatement, the Economist recently mused, “Mobile health apps are becoming more capable and potentially rather useful.”
By 2018, mHealth will reach $21.5 billion in global revenues, according to BCC Research, which focuses on technology-based markets.
What is mHealth?
The term “mHealth” is short for “mobile health” and refers to medical practice and health services offered over and through mobile devices. It’s an extremely wide category, which encompasses everything from your Fitbit app to your calorie counter to a way to video chat with your doctor. According to Visiongain, mHealth includes the following:
- Using smartphones to collect health data, whether clinical, behavioral, or lifestyle, and at the community and individual level
- Connect providers, researchers, and patients with healthcare information
- Real-time monitoring of patient vital signs
One reason the market is growing is that today’s mHealth apps are beginning to harness the latest technology, like artificial intelligence. mHealth “is intelligent, personalized, and gets cleverer as it gleans data from its users,” according to the Economist. It points to Your.MD, an mHealth app that uses natural language processing to ask pertinent follow-up questions and respond after hearing a statement like, “My head hurts.”
In 2015 there were around 100,000 unique mHealth apps on offer. Today there are more than 165,000 health-related apps. However, 80% of apps have been downloaded fewer than 50,000 times.
I’ve broken mHealth apps into three broad categories, with the aid of this white paper from Red Hat Mobile:
1. Three M apps
These apps help people manage, monitor and modify their exercise, diet, sleep, and stress. This category makes up the majority of mHealth apps. It includes apps that connect with portable sensors such as the Fitbit wristband and Apple Watch.
But the possibilities extend far beyond wrist accessories. Novartis has plans to test a glucose-monitoring contact lens that Google helped develop.
It also includes sleep tracker apps, calorie counting apps, and chronic disease diaries. Other apps connect patients to clinical coaches. Allergy alerts let users know when to take their allergy meds, stay indoors, or both. For example, antihistamine Claritin has its own pollen-forecasting app.
Medication reminders help patients modify their behaviors. GSK wanted to know how patients use its Ellipta asthma inhaler. To find out, they partnered with Propeller Health to develop custom sensors that can tell how well patients comply with usage instructions. They can also track how closely compliance correlates with patient safety, drug efficacy, and economic benefits for providers.
Medtronic uses IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence system to predict diabetic patients’ blood-sugar levels. By combining data from Medtronic’s insulin pumps and glucose monitors, diet information, and activity trackers data, Medtronic can predict dips and spikes up to three hours before they happen.
Other types of apps, such as WebMD and iTriage, repackage medical information already found online and offer information about symptoms and treatments. Some, such as ZocDoc, let users book consultations with doctors.
2. Telemedicine apps
“There is a growing range of apps through which users can talk directly to doctors and therapists,” according to the Economist.
Walgreens has offered 24-hour access to a doctor for $49 per consultation through its MDLive app since late 2014.
The next frontier in telemedicine is to offer it without the doctor. Right now, customers can chat with brand bots on Facebook Messenger that will offer personalized product recommendations. Companies are looking to do what bots have done for shopping, but for medicine. Beyond chat, tomorrow’s mHealth apps will use AI to monitor and diagnose patients.
Another emerging mHealth category records physiological data using your phone’s built-in camera, microphone, and speaker and uses the data to diagnoses conditions and monitor progress.
For example, the Cerora headset measures brainwaves and tracks eye movement. It connects to the app, which uses your phone’s internal sensors to test patients’ balance and reaction times to determine brain health and help doctors diagnose concussions and other neurodegenerative diseases. Cellscope’s smartphone attachment allows parents to see the inside of their kids’ ears, take a photo, and send it to their doctor.
3. Administration apps
Some mHealth apps help streamline administrative activities, including:
- Admissions Management
- Bed Management
- Discharge Management
- Historical Reporting
- Patient Flow Management
- Patient Location Tracking
- Patient Monitoring
- Real Time Reporting
- Waiting Time Tracking
These are also featured in our patient monitoring software category. Red Hat Mobile recommends HDOs host their data in the cloud. That way you can use cloud storage as a “middleware” or back-end service to help you extract your data from legacy systems and then move it into more user-friendly software and apps. Cloud hosting is necessary to do all of the above on your phone. You can narrow down your options by cloud-hosted in our directory.
Cloud-based, mobile-friendly software can also help HDOs store, access, and manage data including images, location data, and other information from and with the third-parties that provide myriad clinical and administrative needs.
I also include physician education in the administration app category. General reference and education apps for providers cover everything from digital textbooks and medical dictionaries to procedure tutorials, pill identifiers, and drug references. To learn more about what’s available, check out 5 Essential Medical Apps for Nurses, 7 Free Apps for Allied Health Professionals: Dental Hygienists, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, and Dietitians, and The Top 7 Medical Apps for Doctors.
Looking for Medical Practice Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Medical Practice Management software solutions.