mHealth apps expand options for patients

More than 165,000 mobile health (mHealth) applications are now available to consumers and many of them incorporate innovative data collection features linked to sensors and wearables, a recent study has revealed.

The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that one in ten mobile healthcare apps now has the capability to connect to a device or sensor, providing biofeedback and physiological function data from the patient and greatly extending the accuracy and convenience of data collection.

But while choice and functionality have undoubtedly increased, mHealth apps are still far from being a fully integrated component of healthcare delivery, commented Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

“Healthcare providers are actively addressing the remaining barriers. These include developing and adopting trusted platforms for ongoing apps curation and evaluation, creating practical reimbursement models and ensuring true interoperability within and across healthcare systems,” Aitken added.

These efforts are timely, as growing numbers of consumers are turning to wearable devices and healthcare apps.

Research firm eMarketer reported last week that almost two in five internet users will be using wearables by 2019. At the moment, the gadgets are most popular among adults aged between 25 and 44, but older adults are projected to drive growth in the long term as more wearable health monitoring devices hit the market.

Consumers are more likely to carry on using mobile health and fitness apps when they are prescribed by a doctor, the IMS Institute found: 30-day retention rates are 10% higher for mHealth apps prescribed by a healthcare professional than for those self-selected by patients. For prescribed fitness apps, the retention rate is 30% higher.

The organisation also noted that, while most currently available apps focus on overall wellness, healthcare systems and professionals across the globe are showing greater interest in broader app use, especially in the area of chronic disease management.

“The opportunities of using readily available tools such as smartphones for a health check-up on the go are immense. However, developers and investors alike should not be blinded by the bright lights of this new use of modern technology, but should also be aware of the pitfalls connected to it. Health related data is very sensitive and requires careful handling and once an app has crossed the line from being a purely lifestyle service, it may well find itself to be deemed a medical device and subject to all sorts of regulatory restrictions.” – Dr. Tim Reinhard, Partner

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