There are already more than 200 million mobile health (mHealth) applications in use today, according to a report from Pyramid Research . (That's 200 million downloads, not 200 million separate apps.) By next year, there will be 400,000 more.
The opportunity in mHealth is so big that the CTIA has swapped out its focus on mobile entertainment for a "Wireless Health Day" and Wireless Health Pavilion to showcase innovation in the industry. The confab in health-minded Orlando will also feature a keynote from Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman and CEO of the Institute for Advanced Health.
But CTIA is just a microcosm for what will be a big topic all year. As tablets take off, concurrent with the rise of mobile apps, the mHealth industry presents a number of opportunities for wireless operators. The biggest is quite simple: bandwidth, says Denise Culver, analyst at large at Pyramid and the report's author.
"The greatest need for network bandwidth today lies in physicians' offices or outpatient facilities that require transport of high-resolution imaging," Culver writes in an e-mail to LR Mobile. "While the health-care ecosystem is interconnected and interrelated, tremendous near-term opportunity exists in connecting health information exchanges (HIEs), physicians' offices that are migrating to electronic medical records (EMRs) and hospitals."
This move to EMRs is where most of the growth will come from in the future, she says. But, while being the pipe provider is good business for operators, many will want a more active role -- and a larger slice of the revenue. Culver says that operators are well positioned to partner with healthcare providers -- and many already do -- because they have the scale, technology and consumer-brand assets that those in healthcare lack. They also understand the distribution and sales requirements of consumer devices such as tablets, which are now routinely part of medical students' required materials.
Wireless operators can also use, and create their own, mHealth apps that combine voice, messaging, data and security to increase customer loyalty, Culver adds.
The mHealth money challenge
Despite the opportunity, the biggest open question in mHealth is: who pays? The industry is a complex web of regulations, insurance providers, pharmacies and health institutes. As a result, Culver says that's one question that may not be answered for some time. Most health providers are still in trial stages, and cost remains a big roadblock.
The hope is that pharmaceutical and insurance companies will step in to pick up the cost with the long-term view of lowering patient costs.
"For example, if a diabetes patient learns to use a $30 device that helps monitor his disease, increases accountability and educates him, resulting in a 40 percent decrease in doctor and hospital costs over the year, the cost for an insurance company to provide that device to the patient ... is well worth it," Culver says.
This issue, along with the need to improve the speed and quality at all points of care, is still being worked through and will likely be a talking point at next week's show.
The health industry is being shaped by wireless broadband, tablets, M2M and a plethora of apps. Check out the following stories for more on this topic.
- Diversinet Enhances Mobile Healthcare Platform
- Research Rewind: Feb. 25
- AT&T Adds MedApps Remote Patient Monitoring
- Users Feel Burn With Sprint's New 3G Device
- C&W Offers Telehealth in Panama
- CTIA: Business Is in the Air
- M2M Pits Carriers Against MVNOs
- Android Helps Mobile Health Apps Get Well
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile