How will the mobile health market evolve in 2012?

By: Neil Versel | Jan 5, 2012        

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Neil_Versel_LargeHappy new year, and welcome to 2012! As the year begins, I have some burning questions about mobile and wireless healthcare that I hope to see answered in the next 12 months.

Will consumers understand mobile technology in healthcare? When I checked into a San Diego hotel for the Healthcare Unbound conference last summer, the clerk asked me if I was in town for some big software show going on at the convention center. No, I said, I was there for this other, smaller meeting at the Manchester Grand Hyatt about wireless healthcare technologies.

She gave me a blank stare.

I then explained the concepts of connected health and aging in place with a simple question: What if you had an elderly parent faced with a decision to move into assisted living (or “assisted dying,” as my late grandfather once called it) or a nursing home? Would you rather spend thousands of dollars a month to institutionalize your loved one in a sterile, unfamiliar environment, or would you invest a few hundred dollars in monitoring technology that would allow mom or dad to stay safe at home?

Immediately, a light went on. The clerk got it.

Unfortunately, I have had to use this anecdote several times since then since people I encounter outside healthcare simply don’t understand. This shows me two things: that the general public hasn’t been introduced to new ways of thinking about healthcare; and that it really isn’t so hard to explain what we are talking about here. It’s just that nobody has taken the time to explain things in simple terms.

Will people finally start to differentiate between healthcare and consumer wellness/fitness when it comes to mobility?

Healthcare is not the same as health. Health describes a person’s state of well being. Healthcare is the industry of providing care services.

As I noted after the 2011 Health 2.0 Conference back in September, “In many cases, people seemed to confuse ‘health 2.0′ with ‘fitness 2.0.'” Fitness apps target people looking to get in shape or train for an event like a marathon. Wellness apps are for those who want to live healthy lifestyles through diet and exercises. Healthcare apps are either for professionals to manage their work or for patients to deal with a specific health condition.

They are distinct markets, yet so many people still equate the two. The vendors that understand the differences will prosper. Those that don’t will misplace their marketing efforts and ultimately fail.

I’m not completely convinced, either, that the wellness/fitness market is more than an interesting niche that’s getting close to saturation right now. I used a fitness app last summer to train for my very first 100-mile “century” bike ride. But I also understand that the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry in this country is driven by care of chronic diseases and by inpatient hospitalizations, not by people with cycling hobbies.

Is there a consumer market for healthcare tablets? We already know that Apple has won the hearts, minds and dollars of hundreds of thousands of physicians with the breakthrough iPad, while Android, Windows and BlackBerry tablets barely register with doctors. But the market for consumers appears to be wide open.

Independa is betting on Windows with its consumer tablet for home healthcare. Ideal Life has private-labeled Android tablets. But are these products selling well enough to sustain a market? I suspect we will find out in 2012.

Will EHR vendors properly integrate mobility and will mobile vendors integrate with EHRs? Devices that capture data are wonderful for certain purposes, but the real gains in terms of efficiency and improved care won’t come until there is true interoperability between electronic health records, wireless devices and mobile apps.

EHR vendors continue to struggle with finding the right form factor for delivering mobile data to physicians. Likewise, device manufacturers and app developers are searching for the right ways to populate EHRs  with data their products collect.

This question might not get answered this year, since I do not expect the requirements for Stage 2 of “meaningful use” — due out by mid-2012 — to include device integration. We might see this in Stage 3, which, given the delay of Stage until 2014, is not likely to begin until 2016. But it is not too early to begin asking the vendors when they might deliver.

  • Laurie Orlov

    I would argue that people inside healthcare don’t know much about ‘wireless health technologies’ aka Mobile Health, mHealth, etc. Ask your doctor. And my other concern about this post — Is Mobile Health a synonym for ‘aging
    in place?’  That’s news to me. For the most part, the wireless health tech vendors seem quite disinterested in the plight of the elderly parent dilemma you noted below.  Hence their fascination with tablets and smart phone apps.Your example: “What if you had an elderly parent
    faced with a decision to move into assisted living (or “assisted
    dying,” as my late grandfather once called it) or a nursing home? Would
    you rather spend thousands of dollars a month to institutionalize your
    loved one in a sterile, unfamiliar environment, or would you invest a
    few hundred dollars in monitoring technology that would allow mom or
    dad to stay safe at home?”This is the argument that Personal Emergency Response System/medical alarm vendors have been using for 20 years. The PERS industry is now a $1 billion industry in the US and getting sort-of mobile, perhaps, maybe, sort-of soon.  Like many in the aging tech remote monitoring space eventually realized, why not just call everything coming to market in mobile health PERS?

  • Kathleen Starr, Ph.D

    Thanks so much for bringing up the difference between health/wellness & healthcare.  As a psychologist with a specialty in behavioral medicine/health psychology I often find myself educating stakeholders that both the internal and external forces that influence ‘patient engagement’ are very different among people managing their health/lifestyle in the absence of chronic disease and those managing their health/lifestyle in the face of serious conditions (which to your point requires them to seek health care).

  • Rick Lee

    Bravo, Neil.  Finally recognition that fitness and healthcare are two very distinct and separate fields.  It astonishes me that healthcare execs are lulled into kicking the tires on a B2C solution, drawn by their consumer interest.  For their company, almost all B2C solutions have been devised by your, healthy and spirited entrepreneurs for that narrow slice of young, healthy avid fitness enthusiasts.  The solution has no place in the life of a 52 yr old Type II Diabetic with a BMI of 36 and uncontrolled BP dangerously averaging 148/96.  They don’t need to know the times of their splits.  They barely even walk.  

  • Patrick Roden

    Neil, very good distinction between “Health” and “Healthcare;” confusion still abounds.
    Many of the things we blame on aging have nothing to do with getting older. The distinction here is between “Primary” aging (what’s normal aging) and “Secondary aging” (the things we do to ourselves via lifestyle to speed up the aging process).
    I spent many years in Acute Care and it’s not about “health care” it was really about “sick care,” or acute exacerbations of chronic conditions over-and-over until death—the opposite of compressing morbidity.
    Eric Dishman of Intel speaks to the issue of telehealth care and aging in place on this TED talk:
    It will be interesting to see how this all shapes up.
    Informative post, thanks for writing it…
    Patrick Roden

  • MediTouch EHR

    I don’t believe a separate tablet for mobile healthcare is the answer.  Physicians already love the iPad, why make them use a secondary tablet just for work. Since you’re fond of anecdotes, I’ll use one:  It’d be like having a business cellular and a personal cellular, sure some companies do that, but the ones that want to be able to reach their employees and keep them happy combine the 2. 

    An iPad-native EHR is the ideal tablet tool for mobile health professionals.  And there are already efficient and affordable Web-based EHR systems utilizing cloud computing. It allows physicians to access their EHR and patient files anywhere their is an internet connection.  

  • henway

    What category would u (and by u, I am asking everyone who reads this comment) put apps that are marketed towards weight loss? Obesity is a condition, and people who are obese aren’t exactly fitness freaks.

  • Valerie Leroyer

    I agree that lot’s of consumers do not know about mobile technology and their applications in healthcare. But the problem comes from the fact that they are not well educated about that subject. As a physician I do not have time to do that in my office, though sometimes I talk about it. But in a rural setting like where I practiced, who knows about tablets, or smart phones or any other mobile devices. Education should start with hospital administrators that could promote mobile healthcare for prevention purposes, home palliative healthcare etc… That would be a nice start. So they are the one who should be educated!

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