A look back, a look ahead at mHealth innovations

In just one year a plethora mHealth innovations have made a splash in the consumer marketplace, forging an open path for a bigger wave of products and tools to come in 2015.

This year started off with the mHealth community, Congress and government regulators continuing to debate the right balance between promoting innovation and protecting patient safety. We pondered whether 2014 would be the year for mHealth to make its mark and move from just pilots to truly transforming health systems.

So let's give a quick look back at a few of the dozens of highlights from the year in mobile healthcare.

Tech companies surge into the marketplace

Apple began hiring gurus to build medical sensors for its smartwatch, which it debuted in June and which should hit market in the first quarter of 2015. The tech giant also announced its HealthKit platform, which ignited a flurry of feedback and concern from healthcare experts and industry watchers regarding privacy.

Samsung debuted a digital health initiative that boasts open hardware and software platforms for mHealth technology advancement and innovation. Then came word of Google Fit, a data aggregation platform. BlackBerry announced it was mulling a big move into mHealth, and then a few months later revealed a genome browser that will let oncologists assess genetic alternations for determining treatment strategies.

In March, Samsung's Galaxy S5 ignited focus on mHealth tools and regulatory review and raised the question whether a smartphone's sensor tech could lead to mHealth smartphone devices being designated as medical equipment.

The government turned its sights on mHealth regulation

Lawmakers began earnest lobbying for greater transparency and clarification regarding regulatory review of mobile medical applications.

After a more than two-year wait, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its final guidance on mobile medical applications. Going forward, the FDA states that it will take a "tailored approach" to mobile medical apps that "supports innovation while protecting consumer safety."

In addition, the debate over federal oversight and industry regulations would continue throughout the year, expanding to data privacy issues.

A study from the Federal Trade Commission found that mobile health and fitness applications shared user data with third-party vendors. The data included device use information, as well as personal health and fitness insight.

Privacy and security issues surrounding mHealth are only sure to grow in the new year.

Wearables and health apps make breakthroughs

From Google Glass use in emergency room settings to the development of new antennas that will bend and flex with patient activities, wearables made headlines in 2014. The wearable market, which kicked off a few years back with fitness bands, is robust, with global shipments of predicted to hit 19.2 million this year and 112 million in 2018.

Google also unveiled contact lenses designed to monitor and measure glucose levels in tears, potentially replacing the self-administered blood tests from finger pricks that diabetics, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News

It was a big year for mHealth apps as well, which fast transitioned from just tracking health vitals to tools including an experimental app that monitors subtle changes in the voices patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder and identifies mood changes, and new trends developing mHealth apps, such as the element of gamification. 

It has been a year of transformation for mobile health, and the transformation will clearly continue as 2015 arrives.

Why? Because there's no limit what Apple, Google, Samsung, start-ups, healthcare organizations and health payers can and will do when it comes to mHealth. The debate on what mHealth device--the smartphone or the smartwatch--will ultimately reign is already proving a hot topic for 2015. 

The global mHealth market is expected to hit $21.5 billion in four years. And there's no reason to not believe a prediction made this year: Remote diagnostics, telecare, intuitive products and intelligent infrastructure will be the norm by 2020.

On that note, as 2014 ebbs away and 2015 arrives, FierceMobileHealthcare wishes everyone a warm and wonderful holiday and a healthy, happy new year.

- Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)