mHealth—innovation platform or app trap?

MobileHealthMonitorA report produced by Transparency Market Research predicts the mHealth market will be worth $10.2 billion globally by 2018. This is being propelled by both an increase in smartphone adoption and in the number of individuals with chronic diseases. Similarly, nonprofit foundation Rock Health tracked a 46 percent jump in spending in digital health between 2011 and 2012, with a total value figure of $1.4 billion. Interestingly, Rock Health found four main spending areas, specifically: health consumer engagement ($237M), personal health tools and tracking ($150M), EMR/EHR (electronic medical records/electronic health records; $108M) and hospital administration ($78M).

Looking at these spends begs the following question: Is this flurry of activity the act of genuine healthcare innovation forging into the digital space – or merely the repurposing of long-existent digital technologies now re-branded and pointed at the healthcare market?

A crude assessment of the spend areas points to core pre-existing consumer technologies:

  • Health consumer engagement – Online POS and product information/rating; e.g., Amazon
  • Personal health tools and tracking – Personalized data entry and automated metric measurement/reminders; e.g., Cookies, IP addresses, cloud-enabled data sharing and calendar notifications
  • EMR/EHR – Data capture entered by a third party and automated sensors; e.g., as above, IP addresses, etc.
  • Hospital administration – Business management software tailored for healthcare; e.g., Microsoft Dynamics CRM

So if the current spends are focusing on existing technologies that are squeezed through a healthcare-branded funnel, is there real innovation going on?


Consider an article recounting an experience had by Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health, which is currently featured on the Apple home page. His assertion that, one day, there will be measurement systems that live in the blood and send notices on microbiological activity – translated into layman terms – to your smartphone, is powerful. If this technology is developed and then improved incrementally, at some point we could be living with systems that guide us to “optimum health lifestyles,” so chronic disease wouldn’t have the chance to develop, never mind require managing.

This possibility is bolstered by the fact that processing giant SAP quietly launched its HANA technology last year which, according to co-founder Hass Plattner, can “carry out complex business analysis that today takes up to 12 hours… in an instant.” Tailor that data-crunching power for the mHealth consumer and utopia may not be too far away!

So what does this all mean for health and well-being public relations practitioners?

Briefly, it points to the need for us to continue:

  • Getting a genuine understanding of mobile technology quickly and/or partner with our tech teams, because tech PR firms are rapidly brushing up on their biology;
  • Staying on top of developments in genetic science and diagnostic technology and watch it all converge;
  • And so much more.

The possibilities here now, or approaching imminently, are endless. Initiatives such as the Janssen Healthcare Innovation program and Merck’s Global Health Innovation program have started a buddy-up system to speed investment and R&D in these areas. But even greater collaboration is needed involving partnerships between not only established providers, but also with nontraditional partners, so that, together, they can help steer the trajectory of “the next” in mHealth technology.

So get ready. mHealth could one day not only be your doctor but, also, your personal trainer, life coach and nutritionist all in one!

Jonathan Falcone is an Account Executive in TogoRun’s London office.