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Featured: Nick Hunn on the need for a reality check

Nick Hunn has written an interesting post on his blog Creative Connectivity that posits the need for a bit more reality in all of the analyst hype about the market for mobile Health applications. And indeed the analyst figures pouring in are quite dramatic:

The headline figure that got everyone excited was a report from Kalorama estimating that the medical mobile apps market had grown from $41 million in 2009 to £84 million in 2010.  The inference is that 2011 will be the start of the hockey stick, with untold riches in the years to come.  Pyramid Research certainly think so, claiming that the number of apps will triple by 2012.  Even JWT rate mHealth as being in the top 100 things to watch in 2011, coming in at position 49!

He makes some good points about the weakness of the mobile development ecosystem with regards to commercial viability and monetisation, especially the App Store model which is increasingly moving towards the free + ads end of the spectrum. But the most interesting stuff lies towards the bottom of the post, where Nick references research about purchasing and distribution behaviour between patients and doctors.

Going back to the analysts, what has been interesting is the different views on where users will purchase these health applications.  Research4Guidance in Berlin have been surveying customers about this.  Although they use apps stores today, the participants expect this to change.  By 2015, 65% expected to get apps from their doctors, 68% from clinicians and 56% from specific health related web sites.   Their survey is clearly about “traditional” health, as the main therapeutic areas that came up were the classic long term chronic conditions – diabetes, obesity, hypertension, asthma and COPD, with a strong showing for chronic heart disease as well.  As such, the move to a medical distribution chain may reflect regulatory issues, as well as a continuing trust in the medical profession, even if that means them deploying new tools.

Of course, the big question is how doctors will make the transition from dispensing pills to dispensing apps?  The survey highlights the dichotomy facing the GP – first of choosing apps for their own work, to help them to manage better, and then choosing apps to “sell” to their patients as part of their treatment.  Some analysts, like Pyramid see a role for the network providers here, but I’m not sure I do.  I was much more impressed by a company I met when I was chairing the Mobile Healthcare Industry Review at the King’s Fund before Christmas.   It was a new company called Devices 4 Ltd.  It’s structured as a non-profit organisation and has been working with the healthcare industry and is very aware of both parts of this problem.  James Sherwin-Smith, their Chief Executive, was presenting the results of a survey that they had undertaken to see how UK health professionals were using mobile technology.  80% of the respondents carry a mobile phone at work, almost half to allow them to access information on the internet or intranet.  Yet only 18% run a medical or health application.   That would double if the phone was provided to them with work related apps.  Over half of respondents, who were all health professionals, believed that they “would be more productive if they had a mobile phone for use at work”.  The survey also highlighted that within the UK, using a mobile phone in a medical environment is still not allowed or frowned on for over a third of those surveyed.

The survey informs the role that d4 is aiming to fill.  It’s quite shocking that over a third of health managers still see no benefit to medical staff using mobile phones.  Even where they are allowed or tolerated, there’s no coordination about which phone or network to use, or which applications might be relevant to which job.  Instead individual health workers are left to make that decision themselves.  d4 is aiming to be the glue that brings that together, allowing information and best practice to be shared and to act as a group purchasing organisation for UK healthcare professionals.  If you’re involved in healthcare, have a look at what they’re doing.

They’re not alone in understanding the problem.  In the US, the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) has put together their own mobile health applications marketplace, called happtique.  It has many of the same principles as d4, and I’m please to see they’re working together.  Amid the hype surrounding mobile apps, they’re both bringing a much needed injection of sanity to those who may soon be at the sharp end of deploying them.

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About Margaret Gold

Margaret is an innovation and business launch specialist in the mobile industry, one of the organisers of Over the Air (the annual mobile developer hack-a-thon event), and the founder of The Mobile Collective.

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