Smartphone apps push m-health market, but payment issues persist

It's time for a reality check with a little bit of the type of prognostication that necessitated this reality check.

"mHealth solutions have been discussed since the end of the 90s," German mobile research organization research2guidance notes in a blog post previewing a forthcoming report. "There were very positive market projections indicating that the mHealth market would soon become a billion-dollar market at that time." But the expected boom never happened.

Early developers built products based on personal digital assistants, small handheld computers and simple phones that weren't more advanced than SMS text messaging. "The mHealth solutions which were developed between 2000 and 2008 very much resemble today's mHealth applications in the various app stores. But with a few exceptions, projects didn't progress beyond the trial stage," research2guidance notes. And many of these players, including big ones like Qualcomm, got out of mobile healthcare for a while. "The market was not ready to come out the trial phase at that time and did not manage to gain significant size."

But then came the iPhone and the Apple App Store, heralding the age of smartphone applications. Research2guidance expects there to be 1 billion smartphones in use worldwide by 2013, so it's no longer a niche market.

Today, devices are better than they ever have been, distribution channels like the App Store and Android Market provide global reach for even the smallest app developers and more consumers are aware of mobile health apps (though the elderly, who could benefit the most from m-health haven't jumped on the bandwagon in large numbers). But until more apps gain clearance from regulators and payers start reimbursing for mobile care, patients will have to foot the bill.

"The market will remain a consumer driven market, which means that the full potential will remain untapped," according to the post. "Another barrier remains the discussion around security and confidentiality of data. Major projects like electronic health records have been mandated a decade ago in some countries but implementation has been delayed until now mainly because of security and confidentiality reasons."

To learn more:
- see this research2guidance blog post