Examining a sweet spot in mHealth technology

Scroll the search results of 'mobile healthcare' and it doesn't take long to figure out that mobile apps and devices are cropping up all over, from university research and development labs to innovation incubators at top tech firms. Mobile healthcare has jumped miles ahead from the initial focus of health and fitness to now becoming an actual diagnostic and treatment tool used everywhere from emergency rooms to ambulance calls to nursing homes.

One of the biggest sweet spots for such technology is the monitoring and treatment of one of the most prolific diseases in the world: diabetes. As FierceMobileHealthcare recently reported, the technologies in play range from a texting strategy being evaluated by care providers for teen diabetics and an app that essentially turns a smartphone into a blood lab environment.

As a new report from Research2Guidance reveals, 8.3 percent of the world's population in 2013 was suffering from diabetes and that number is predicted to double by 2030. Given that statistic it's not that surprising that mobile diabetes software could have big business potential.

One reason is that diabetes treatment requires daily monitoring for most patients, and pin pricks to test blood sugar levels are giving way to advancements such as monitoring apps. Mobile monitoring of diabetic employees can save more than $3,000 a year in healthcare costs, half of the average annual medical insurance cost for workers diagnosed with diabetes, according to recently published research.

Software makers have already gotten busy devising monitoring tools. There are over 1,000 specific diabetes apps, for both diabetes patients and for those treating the disease, available through Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Yet, as the report notes, the apps are only being tapped by 1.2 percent of the combined user group at this point. But that scenario should change dramatically in just a few years, notes the report that predicts 7.8 percent (24 million users) will be using the tools by 2018.

My guess is that such big growth spurts will occur as users begin to trust and rely on mobile apps for personal health and treatment, just as they're doing for fitness needs, retail shopping and social interaction today.

The report indicates one driving factor will be the development of 'bundle' products in which an app for monitoring blood sugar will be on a device that also powers a needed wearable healthcare sensor or a service related to treatment, such as reminder for taking medication. Another big factor is likely to be endorsement from payers in terms of covering the costs of apps and mobile devices as part of treatment programs.

Mobile healthcare app advancement is only good news for everyone in the diabetes treatment chain. Patients will be provided less invasive and mobile monitoring options, physicians and care givers will get test results and patient data in quicker time for treatment and preventative care and payers are likely to see big costs reductions as lab visits and lab tests won't be the cost they are today.

Yet mobile app tech adoption clearly hinges on some other relevant factors as well, including regulatory requirements tied to data security and user privacy, as well as looming government oversight on apps and devices that may be viewed as medical equipment.

The landscape is just starting to take form but those building mobile healthcare apps, those who may benefit and those willing to pay the costs all need to be involved so that tech advancements aren't slowed or hindered when it comes to mobile diabetes tools and services. - Judy (@JudyMottl and@FierceHealthIT)