Understanding mHealth in a Fragmented Market

Press release – September 22, 2011

By Jay Emmet, General Manager, OpenMarket for Wireless Life Sciences Alliance

A $1.4 billion industry, mHealth has made a significant impact and will continue to improve patient care. The market is expected to grow nearly 22 percent by 2014, with healthcare IT spending reaching $40 billion, according to Juniper Research. Increased adoption of mobile communication patterns in remote data collection and monitoring, patient education, diagnosis, treatment, and epidemic monitoring will fuel this growth.

From simple messaging services like SMS (Short Message Service), to MMS (Multimedia Message Service) and more complex applications, consumers are ready to communicate with their healthcare providers via mobile technology. These tools can quickly prompt them to make appointments and take preventative health measures. While mobile technology will make it possible to rapidly distribute critical health information at any time, the market is fragmented and lacks industry standards that assure the security of these communications. A mobile hub business model offers an opportunity for better quality of service for patients at a lower cost to healthcare providers.

SMS drives results

Over 90 percent of US consumers own a mobile device, so SMS or MMS is accessible and often the first step in a mobile healthcare platform. Text messaging provides immediacy of action, portability, inexpensive cost, and measurable results. In addition, MMS offers a more personal, interactive experience that many patients prefer. Hospital centers across the US are currently testing how to increase compliance using SMS or MMS and show positive results across age groups and disease states.

For example, Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plan with over 8.6 million members, ran an initial pilot program with a simple SMS reminder for appointments. At one clinic, Kaiser reduced no-shows by 1,837 at a savings of $275,000. They are now rolling out the program system wide.

It’s not all about apps

Mobile health apps will improve healthcare and change the way patients and their physicians interact. With over 200 million currently available, Pyramid Research indicates that about 70 percent of people worldwide are interested in at least one mobile health app. Doctors use apps to access patients’ medical histories, while patients are monitoring their blood pressure, glucose levels and prescription needs.

Although apps show great potential, mobile messaging is accessible for nearly everyone. 75 percent of the US market owns messaging-enabled feature phones, or non-smart phones. Apps likely won’t have the reach of SMS or MMS for five years or more. There are also concerns about patients’ willingness to pay for health apps versus downloading free ones, and how to make complex apps successful. Getting providers and patients to adopt fundamental communications patterns will be the true catalyst for propelling mHealth forward.

Industry standards will help drive adoption

As the use of text messaging, mobile apps, and even payment services for mHealth grows, a certain level of regulation is needed to ensure that consumers have tools they can trust. The FDA and other coalitions will be critical to help control personal health information through the mobile system. mHealth technology has the opportunity to save millions of dollars in health care costs, and offer consumers a secure way to better manage their healthcare – from monitoring nutrition to receiving text alerts for upcoming appointments.

By creating a direct communication channel between patients and healthcare providers, pharmacies and medical device manufacturers, it’s also important that mobile programs comply with industry rules, such as HIPAA, to manage personal health information. While the FDA has classified SMS reminders as a Class I medical device, there are no clear regulations on software or systems that doctors use to retrieve, store or manage patient information. What is holding the industry back is a clear definition of mHealth – the new communication patterns in healthcare that connect patients, healthcare providers, payers and pharma on a mobile platform. With great adoption of mHealth tools, an industry standard such as medical or hospital grade messaging is needed to ensure the security and compliance of these communications.

A ‘hub’ resolves market inefficiencies

With patients, providers, insurers, operators, and regulators in the mix, the mHealth industry is fraught with fragmentation. A mobile hub can provide a medical grade messaging solution for secure communications among participants and better quality of service at a lower cost.

The hub enables providers to connect directly to mobile subscribers, or patients, through mobile operators. Many doctors and staff are currently forced to fax information because email and SMS are not considered secure. Medical grade messaging offers a secure, reliable solution whereby doctors can quickly share resources and access patient information via mobile. With medical grade messaging, patients can access treatment information and advice, or locate nearby physicians and healthcare facilities.

Together with FDA guidelines and other security regulations, establishing a true medical grade messaging solution is essential to the mHealth ecosystem. Working together to build strong patient relationships, develop innovative marketing programs, and establish policies that are transparent for all participants and regulators will drive further adoption and growth. Ultimately, more providers and patients will get on board with an mHealth solution that delivers the best consumer experience at the lowest cost.