Healthcare: There’s an App for That

There are around 165,000 health-related apps that run on Apple and/or Android operating systems. By next year, it is estimated that these apps will have been downloaded 1.7 billion times. The successful apps are highly popular, creating a promising future for mobile health (m-health). M-health revenues will reach $21.5 billion in 2018, with Europe being the largest market.

Some apps measure wellness, diet, exercise, while used along with portable sensors like the Fitbit wristband. WebMD and iTriage regurgitate medical information about treatments already found online. Different type of apps are emerging, allowing patients to directly talk/message/communicate with doctors and therapists.

Cerora has created a headset to measure brainwaves, track eye movement, and test balance and reaction times. Should the FDA approve it this year, this could help diagnose concussion and other neurodegenerative diseases. Medtronic is working on an app to predict, up to three hours in advance, when a patient will reach dangerously high or low blood-sugar levels, gathering data from insulin pumps and glucose meters worn on the body. Novartis is testing a glucose-monitoring contact lens.

Constant monitoring can prevent patient suffering, as well as expensive hospital admissions. Some m-health products may become so effective that doctors provide them by prescription. GSK offers asthma patients the MyAsthma app to help manage their condition. They are also developing custom sensors for inhalers to see how well patients comply with instructions. Clinical trials of new drugs will use apps to measure disease progression and efficiency of treatments.

As m-health grows and takes on more serious tasks, it may become more regulated. Instant Blood Pressure was removed from the Apple app store last August after its accuracy was questioned. The developer of AcneApp, for treating pimples with iPhone light, was fined. The FDA is figuring out how it wants to regulate m-health, paying little attention to low-risk apps.

There are concerns about how health apps store, use, and share patient data. Many apps may be sharing patient data without their knowledge. Four-fifths of diabetes apps have no privacy policies.  Since the rules about storage and transmission of personal health data have not changed since the invention of the iPhone, doctors and hospitals may be reluctant to try any of these new apps until the rules about data security are updated. The vast m-health market will likely consolidate over time, with the most promising apps being bought by, or allied with, trusted health brands.
“Things are Looking App.” Business. The Economist, 12 Mar 2016. Web. 17 Mar 2016.

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