Traditional Providers Offer mHealth Apps

Mobile health, or mHealth, solutions continue to gain ground in the healthcare marketplace. While user acceptance of mHealth solutions has been proliferating for years, distribution networks are now arising to bring those solutions to the market.mHealth App

As posted here in December in mHealth – Health IT Going Mobile, PWC estimated that 40% of consumers are willing to pay for wireless health solutions. As further evidence, wireless industry association CTIA reported in October 2010:

Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) people surveyed in 2009 said they would upgrade their existing wireless plan to participate in mHealth … 11% said they would even consider switching wireless providers to receive mobile healthcare services.

Using CTIA’s more conservative numbers, 11% of the 150 million US mobile subscribers that would switch carriers to use mHealth solutions equates to 16.5 million people.

But what about the distribution networks? How many of these 16.5 million will visit an online app store to purchase the mHealth solution? As it turns out, they may not have to. A 2010 survey of mHealth developers conducted by research2guidance indicates that traditional healthcare providers are now distributing almost as many mHealth solutions as app stores. The developers surveyed expect app stores, which facilitated early adoption, to continue as an important distribution network. However, they expect healthcare providers – doctors, hospitals, pharmacies – and healthcare websites to overtake app stores as the primary distributors of mHealth solutions by 2015.

Given that app stores have a head start and the ‘first to market’ rule of consumer marketing, why would developers expect traditional providers catch up with app stores? The developers themselves may be taking a cue from their older cousins in the healthcare marketplace, pharmaceutical companies. According to research2guidance’s Ralf Gordon Jahns, one potential factor that could help close the gap is incentives:

Specialized distribution providers will develop business models that will allow doctors to recommend applications and profit from downloads. They could, for example, receive a share of revenues from downloads or subscription fees from specialized mHealth app stores.

Jahns also suggests that traditional providers could begin sponsoring apps. That could lend trusted brand names to various apps resulting in increased acceptance. Evidence suggests this trend has already begun.

The mHealth WikiList on website Vital mHealth lists over 100 mHealth apps, each with a sponsor name. Sponsors Merck, J&J and Bayer all have multiple offerings on the list. They are in the company of WebMD, the Mayo Clinic and other household names.