Is mHealth at the Peak of Inflated Expectations?

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsAt the beginning of the summer, the American Telemedicine Association's President Jon Linkous wrote a somewhat scathing critique of the hype that surrounded (and continues to surround) all things mHealth. This past week Eric Dishman, an Intel Fellow and director of health innovation and policy for Intel's Digital Health Group, argued convincingly that right now mHealth is at the apex of the hype cycle:

"This well-intentioned but premature celebration of all things 'mHealth' may come back to bite us, if we're not more careful," Dishman wrote in his rant, entitled The Hype and Hope of mHealth. Dishman broke his primary concerns down into three buckets: The vaguity of the term "mHealth," a clear failing to "manage expectations" for mHealth, and an inability to get beyond a few very specific mHealth baises.

Vaguity: "If 'mHealth' is all of these things and more....if 'mHealth' is everything...then it is nothing. The phrase has become so slippery, so ubiquitous as to become almost useless. We must be more careful in defining and aligning what we're talking about, and I encourage these various workshops and organizers to spend some time clarifying and specifying what's at play here," Dishman wrote.

I sympathize with Dishman on this one, really: The semantics around mHealth and wireless health can be confusing or overly broad at times. Navel-gazing, however, is a bigger danger for such a new industry. Language is rarely precise. Debates over the etymology of mHealth vs. wireless health vs. the new term du jour seem much less important than the real issues: Efficacy, business model, regulatory environment, et al.

Expectations: "As we're reaching a fevered pitch about mHealth, I fear that no technology solution could ever achieve the enormous claims and utopian breakthroughs so many are promising. We're doing a terrible job with expectations management because consumers and clinicians are all likely to believe that these solutions and services are widely proven, affordable, and available. This is just not the case yet. The potential is there, but not yet the products and price points."

While I can't speak to the beliefs of consumers at large, I find it hard to believe many clinicians are under the impression mHealth services are widely "proven, affordable and available." Most discussions I've had with clinicians have led me to the opposite conclusion: Clinicians are either fully aware of mHealth's potential and prematurity or they are rife with skepticism about it.

Biases: Dishman was frustrated after a discussion with an organizer of an mHealth related event that showed the organizer had "all three of the biases of the mHealth movement that concern me: It's supposed to be about cell phones, with cool gadgets, for young people," Dishman wrote.

Does that ring true for you? All about the phone? Too cool? For the young? Or does it sound like an isolated incident?

In any case, I agree with both Dishman and Linkous about one thing at least: We are at the apex of the hype cycle for mHealth. It's what Gartner Research calls the Peak of Inflated Expectations. So, hang on, because if Gartner's hype cycle is correct, then our next maneuver is a steep descent into the Trough of Disillusionment.