Friday, December 17, 2010

Good bye Doctor! Hello Smart Phone!

Good bye Doctor! Hello Smart Phone!: The emergence of the Smart Phone as a Healthcare Delivery Platform

Move out of the way! Doctor. Just when you thought rising liability insurance costs and declining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were your biggest worries, you have a new one emerging on the horizon - the evolution of the Smartphone into a Primary Care Physician.

The scenario is not as farfetched as it sounds. A recent survey by Pew on the adoption rate of mobile health ("mHealth") apps found that a full 9 percent of American mobile phone users said they have a mobile health app on their phone that enables them to "track" or "manage" their health. Another recent study compiled by research2guidance, predicts that more than a third of 1.4 billion smartphone users in 2015 will be running some kind of mobile healthcare application.

Over a six month period from Feb 2010 to Sep 2010 each of the Smartphone Applications Platform: Apple App Store, Google Android and Blackberry App World have shown robust double digit growths in the number of Health Apps available. The composite growth across all platforms was 78% with Apple growing 66.6% from 4276 Health apps to 7136; Google showing a growth of 156.6% from 505 to 1296; and Blackberry showing a phenomenal growth of 141.4% from 140 to 338.

Smartphone and other mobile healthcare applications include those for diabetes and other chronic diseases' management, hospital based RFID and the use of technologies such as Bluetooth and ZigBee for health and fitness monitoring. A number of SMS messaging and Health 2.0 based medical applications are also emerging.

Smartphone Healthcare apps seem set to emerge as a differentiator in the increasingly crowded and competitive healthcare insurance marketplace (USP: "My smartphone apps to track your health are better than the competition" ) as healthcare players (Insurance companies, Pharmaceutical Companies, Device companies, Providers etc) queue to launch their own apps or co-branded apps as promotional tools or potential revenue streams.

Joining the bandwagon could be telecom or technology companies who will attempt to backward integrate into the healthcare sector now that they have a foot in the door through their control of the newly emerging healthcare delivery platform - the smartphone. AT&T recently launched AT&T For Health. The objectives for this group sound almost like that of a Healthcare plan: “combine mobility technologies, devices, connectivity, and applications to help drive down medical costs and deliver improved patient outcomes." These services aim to help healthcare providers and patients manage disease, stay adherence, age in place, manage weight loss, and monitor wellness.

As telecom companies step in the same "Health and Wellness" space Healthcare insurance companies are trying to expand into, the battle for the "patient" is likely to heat up. The telecom companies may have a technology advantage but are likely to be limited by their lack of a "patient base". Opportunities may exist for Healthcare players to work out collaborative agreements with telecom players to leverage each others strengths.

Doctor, no reason though to lose heart yet, nearly half of Smartphone or mHealth applications are designed for Healthcare Providers aiming at improving their effectiveness and efficiency in areas like continued medical education programs, healthcare management and remote monitoring applications.And there's another side to the story too. A recent Harvard Health publication indicated that as phones and their apps become smarter and smarter, more clinicians are incorporating them into their practices. They say, in a few years, filling a prescription may be just as likely to involve a session in the apps store as a trip to the pharmacy.

Pssst…let me check my Smartphone mHealth app to see how my Blood Pressure and Heart rate tracked as I penned this piece.

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