mHealth: Is the Healthcare Market Ready?

DataArt management team, Daniel Piekarz
Daniel Piekarz

Guest post by Daniel Piekarz, Vice President of Business Development, Life Sciences, DataArt.

mHealth is a broad category of healthcare technology including medical, health and wellness applications and devices. The mHealth market is exploding because of the vast interest in the space and a relatively low cost of entry. We are seeing the marketplace grow at a very rapid pace with likely more than 100,000 apps available on the market today.

Why is there so much excitement around the mHealth market? The platform that mHealth runs on has expanded around the entire globe with nearly 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. This is equal to more than 95 percent of the world’s population as estimated by The International Telecommunication Union. This 7 billion includes 1.75 billion smartphone users globally, according to eMarketer. The world is more connected today than ever before and this has laid the foundation for the mHealth market to begin its climb into the mainstream.

But is the market ready?

In many ways the excitement in the market reminds me of the excitement that swarmed during the early 90s regarding the Internet. Every company was entering the space, trying all sorts of new business models and many companies were simply copying others trying to get in on the action. Unfortunately, as we saw with the Internet bubble, high levels of excitement around technology without a clear focus on the problem we are trying to solve can cause very expensive mistakes.

While government and patients are pushing for change in healthcare, a survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers reveals doctors are less optimistic and more resistant to the disruption mHealth holds for their traditional roles. Only 27 percent encourage patients to use mHealth applications to become more active in managing their health; 13 percent actively discourage mHealth and 42 percent of doctors worry that mHealth will make patients too independent, and it seems to be the younger doctors who are the most worried, with 24 percent of them discouraging mHealth use.

The results of the PwC survey reflect what I have seen when discussing mHealth with doctors. The fear that patients will try to diagnose themselves, the fear of a relatively unregulated market and the lack of evidence-based information, a general fear of change.  Yet the same survey states that 60 percent of doctors and payers feel that the wide adoption of mHealth is inevitable in the next few years.

At its core, the mHealth market focuses on convenient, accurate and mobile ways of monitoring your health or condition, or improving the efficiency and delivery of care. The information collected with mHealth offers great value when used for preventative care. In essence, mHealth gives our doctors and ourselves the ability to look at a dashboard of our health, but not many doctors are even interested in doing this. When I ask myself why there is this disconnect, it goes back to the fact that the U.S. healthcare system is actually a sickcare system.

The sickcare system is the biggest challenge for the leaders in the mHealth space.  mHealth innovations are providing doctors with the tools to truly help manage a person’s health, and not just their illness. This is the greatest benefit of mHealth and something we have to work toward as an industry. An empowered patient and doctors focused on prevention is the disruption we need in the healthcare market and it is the responsibility of mHealth leaders to help light the way. Filling the market with great technology is not enough, we must evangelize the change we expect to create in the healthcare market.

When I think of the change we want to create in the healthcare market, I am drawn to the time I spent with a doctor in Japan. A few years back while I was working in the e-clinical space and traveling to Japan often, I became friendly with a local doctor who left his traditional medical practice and opened up a practice that specialized in “real healthcare” as he called it. He was a private physician outside of the typical Japanese healthcare system so he did not take insurance. His fee structure was simple. Your family pays a monthly fee to him and he keeps you healthy.

If you become sick, he treats you for free until you are better. In his practice, prevention was the name of the game. If he did not keep his patients healthy, he did not get paid. While the U.S. healthcare system may never take on this doctor’s payment structure, I hope mHealth helps to bring about a similar change in the attitude towards what healthcare truly means, and the role doctors should play.

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