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Is there a saturation point with mobile health apps?

Digital health saturation point?

Each time I’m tempted to prognosticate, I recall the observation often attributed to Yogi Berra:  “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Alas, I’ve chosen to be in a field – mobile healthcare technology – that seemingly compels speculation. How else to anticipate market trends and prepare accordingly? We all do the best we can.

Exacerbating the difficulty of accurate prediction is the astonishing speed at which the industry is growing. According to MobiHealthNews’ 2011 apps reports, over 13,000 consumer health apps for the iOS platform (used by the iPhone and iPad) will be available by this summer, along with 6,000 professional medical apps. About the only thing one can say with certainty about medical apps is, like ants at a picnic, more will be coming.

In the very near future, using mobile health applications will be nearly as common as playing Words With Friends is today

Of course, every app developer is making predictions as well, leavened with great hope that theirs is the “breakout” app that will be embraced by the public. But such an outcome assumes the public will first embrace the concept of using mobile health applications at all. And that’s where I’m going to go out on a (admittedly very sturdy) limb and say, “Yes. In the very near future, using mobile health applications will be nearly as common as playing Words With Friends.” But I will not be so foolhardy as to predict which applications will achieve lasting popularity.

In fact, I’m more interested in speculating – not on the popularity of mobile health applications – but rather where such use will reach its saturation point. At what stage will physicians and the patients for whom they provide care come to a common agreement as to threshold where the use of the app is insufficient at advancing care, and the patient will be compelled to visit the doctor in person.

This threshold is anything but well defined. You might, for example, feel that tests that require bodily fluids would necessitate an office visit. But it’s reported that a team of South Korean scientists has developed technology that reliably diagnoses some diseases from analysis of a drop of blood or saliva on the touchscreen of a smartphone.

Instantly accessible online health information and personal monitoring (and even diagnosis) is having a profound and permanent affect on the patient/doctor relationship. My take is that both parties will arrive at consensus on a case-by-case basis. Mobile health apps will become a vital part of an equation where patients and caregivers will determine if use of an app is as good as (or even better) than an office visit.

 

Posted in: Healthcare Marketing, Marketing Medical Devices, Medical Device Marketing, mHealth, Patients as Healthcare Consumers, Smartphones

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Give the market what it needs, not what it asks for.

For over a year now, my worldview has been dominated by issues related to mobile healthcare. When you’re in it as deep as I am, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, to most folks, this is an entirely new field. And like any new endeavor, there are bound to be mistakes made, and wrong (or at least unproductive) paths followed.

I was reminded of this the other day when I came across the article, Healthcare Marketing Goes Mobile. It prognosticated trends in device usage (smartphones lead the way, with tablets close behind, yawn), but what really caught me was a demographic profile extrapolated from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

It wasn’t the data itself that concerned me. Instead, it was the idea that one of the wrong paths that mobile healthcare innovators might follow is one of creating products only in response to market research.

Is the best product really an app targeting 25–29 year-old urban black males with some college, making $50k–$75k a year?

Retrospectives of the life of Steve Jobs overflow with delight and admiration for his rare form of innovation. He brought the world products that, until he introduced them, we didn’t know we needed. (I didn’t know I couldn’t live without my iPad until I had one. Now you’d have to pry it from my cold, dead…etc.) Like another super-innovator, Henry Ford opined, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have said ‘faster horses.’”

So the potential mistake I foresee is a company “making faster horses,” in response to polling data. For example, an mHealth developer, acting on the Pew demographic profile, deciding the best product to make is an app specifically targeting 25-29 year old urban black males with some college who make $50k to $75k a year.

I’m definitely not taking the position that market research is useless. My worry is that people will proceed cart-before-horse method and develop apps for a market based on volume (a population responding to a survey) rather than an innovative needs-based (physician/patient insight) concept.

Posted in: Healthcare Marketing, Marketing Medical Devices, Medical Device Marketing, mHealth, Smartphones

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