Earlier this week, Float Mobile Learning released an info graphic making a promise that we've heard before: that the market for mobile health care is about to "explode."
And why shouldn't it? See the bottom of this post for the full infographic, but some of the highlights include the fact that 80% of doctors already use smartphones, tablets and mobile apps and 40% believe the apps can reduce office visits. Before we declared yet another cancer-curing victory for mobile tech, however, we decided to check in with some third-party sources.
Everybody we spoke with was in agreement that mobile health care apps, from pedometers to track whether patients are getting enough exercise to more sophisticated apps that will allow a doctor in New York to make a diagnosis on an MRI taken in Africa, will revolutionize the way we get (and stay) healthy. But it could take longer than we're being led to believe.
"Doctors will be slow to change, not due to the devices and apps, but because of the radical shift from traditional medical practices and the potential for malpractice based on the accuracy of the information provided and available," said Ritch Blasi, who runs MediaRitch LLC, a consulting business with clients in both the health care and mobile industries. "Most importantly, there is a need for education throughout the healthcare ecosystem, including doctors and patients."
Blasi sees other problems, including inadequate bandwidth to consistently handle the image-rich data that physicians rely on. Insurance companies have yet to figure out how to handle mobile treatments
"mHealth adoption will take some time, due to a number of reasons...I'm not talking about the health and fitness apps that are 'nice' to have, but the ones that physicians will need to make a proper diagnosis," Blasi said.
Robert B. McCray, president and CEO of Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance, likens the coming changes in mobile healthcare to transformation in other sectors, including digital music, Internet commerce and mobile data.
"Like the creation of other major convergence sectors wireless/mobile/connected health is a slow moving 'revolution, if you want to attach that term (which I do not recommend).," he said in an email. "Consider digital music, Internet commerce and mobile data. These major transformations of established sectors did not happen quickly, though we tend to remember the headlines when the popular press noticed and investors piled on."
mHealth Will Grow. It's Just A Matter Of When
This is not, however, to say that mHealth is dead on arrival. On the contrary, there are some existing factors that could speed adoption and growth. Doctors, for example, are 250% more likely to own tablets. A recent survey by Aruba Healthcare found that that 85% of hospital IT departments allow doctors and staff to use personal devices at work.
Overall, 72% of healthcare professionals have smartphones, which is above the overall U.S. rate of less than half, according to Jose Cornejo, vice president of healthcare at Hipcricket, which makes mobile health products.
"In our opinion the mHealth revolution is well underway," Cornejo said. "We are seeing the commitment of large healthcare companies to extend these tools and resources to both practicing physicians and patients."
Current projections show this as one of those mid-recession feel-good stories where several sectors benefit. By 2017, the mHealth market for device makers is expected to grow to $6.6 billion globally. For content and application providers, the market is expected to grow to $2.6 billion, and it will reach $2.4 billion for healthcare providers by 2017. Of those totals, the U.S. market will account for $5.9 billion, according to a recent report by GSMA.
"Doctors and patients will not decide when the revolution takes place - it will be consumers and any source that they determine to be a trusted source for information and assistance," McCray said. "We do not have enough physicians in this country to handle demand and the rest of the world's billions of residents are in need of help in environments that will never have anywhere near our resources."