If you are not yet awakened to the vast potential of mHealth, it is time to be so. According to the 2014 mHealth App Market Report published by analyst firm Research2Guidance, global revenue from mHealth apps will touch $6 billion in 2015, and double to $13 billion by 2016.
It’s not only the sheer growth potential that is exciting though. The entire character of the mHealth market is poised to change rapidly. Today, if you think of health apps, chances are you will think of fitness apps, calorie counting apps, apps for diabetics to monitor sugar levels etc. And that is not surprising – there are 100,000 + health apps in Android and iOS App stores, and 30% are health and fitness apps. But that is set to change. In the future, services (like remote monitoring and consultation) will occupy a bigger chunk. They will also account for upto 69% of revenue in a $26 billion health app industry by 2020.
To put it in a nutshell, the health app market will not only grow in size and revenue potential, but also in the ‘seriousness’ of the applications, inviting more of healthcare providers, hospitals and diagnostic services to be part of the industry. This implies that we will see both consumer facing applications and applications designed to be used by healthcare providers to interact with each other, and with health care institutions.
Here are some of the exciting opportunities in the mHealth space, that will enable high quality medical care to be reached out cost effectively to the masses.
1. Integration with medical databases
Apps for monitoring and consultation by default require access to medical records and patient databases. Apps that can hook into patient management systems and patient records are the long-term value and growth drivers for mHealth. Obviously, this will pose various challenges such as the security of data, and the migration of information. It is likely that new providers will enter the industry to build connectivity tools that provide a secure bridge between the confidential data and applications. What will integration mean from a patient perspective? Let’s take an example of a rural patient who comes to a Mumbai hospital for an operation and then returns to his village. Through the app, it will be possible for him to avail remote consulting with his surgeon, who will have access to his medical records, and can make live annotations, or changes to the prescription. If the patient needs to visit the local hospital, the records with latest annotations can be made available to the local doctor. X-Rays, CT Scans and Pathology test results can be stored digitally in the app, so that all a patient’s medical records for his lifetime are at your fingertips. Vernacular language and voice based technology will be deployed so that non English speaking patients can benefit from these developments.
Healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly entering into the business of branded OTC products. mCommerce will be an important part of their strategy, facilitating easy access to quality branded products delivered conveniently at user’s homes. mCommerce is the future of online purchase, as the number of connected consumers on mobile already outnumbers those who use PC. Apps offer companies valuable analytics and an opportunity to interact with repeat customers. For example, if someone ordered vitamin supplements 45 days ago – and as the seller, you know the bottle or pack ought to be over by now, you can definitely push a reminder in the form of an ad, or testimonial.
3. Apps for medical diagnosis and information
You might have heard of Peek, the smartphone app developed by UK experts, and deployed in Kenya to conduct on-site eye examination. Peek played a breakthrough role in healthcare in a country which had 40 million population but only 86 qualified eye specialists, most of them based in Nairobi. Apps like this are directed at healthcare workers, but equally, we need consumer facing apps that offer relevant, authentic information on disease prevention and self diagnosis. With a mix of video, celebrity endorsement, articles, quizzes and DIY home tests, education can be imparted on key diseases and conditions like AIDs, Cancer, Treatment of stomach infections and more. The personal and intimate nature of mobile communication makes it an ideal medium to impart information about sensitive topics like sexual disorders, urinary infections, infertility etc.
4. Local Directories of Health facilities and schemes
It may sound like a low-tech idea, but it is a necessity. A directory of the nearest public and private hospitals, doctors, path labs and primary healthcare centres on mobile would be relevant to everyone. Local NGOs can add in information about schemes for patient subsidy available in specific locations. Transparent information can help people to actually avail benefits intended for them, which they might not have been aware of, if it was not presented in the app.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. If we use consumer needs as the starting point, and communicate in the language that he understands, then the sky is the limit for the number and range of mHealth Apps that we can develop!
Phani Bhushan is the founder of Anant Computing. Anant Computing helps companies to create native apps in every Indian language, that run on any feature phone or smartphone. Team Anant firmly believes that true digital inclusion will happen if every citizen of our country has the power of internet and computing at their finger tips. Our vision when we designed Anant was a more digitally inclusive India, where everyone with a mobile phone can both create and access high quality apps ,sans language barriers.