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Do Mobile Health Apps Work?

Health 2.0 BostonLast week, Health 2.0 Boston convened several leaders in the digital healthcare industry to help answer one question:

“How helpful are mobile healthcare apps?”

While the panelists and attendees struggled to directly show evidence to concisely answer the question, it sparked some great discussions. We saw three primary themes come out of responses to this question.

 1) The future includes more sensors integrated into our daily lives and fewer stand-alone devices and apps

While the market is flooded with new stand-alone activity tracking devices like the Nike FuelBand, FitBit, Fitbug ORB, Jawbone Up, Garmin vivofit, and Polar Loop – these devices are likely a stepping stone into a much more integrated world of activity and health tracking. Imagine the death of the traditional bathroom scale – being replaced by sensors beneath your shower floor that send your weight to your mobile device each morning. With early activity-evaluating technologies like sensors on your skin, inside contact lenses, or in swallowable pills , a future where health information tracking is fully integrated into everyday devices and activities isn’t as difficult to imagine.

2) Consumers will continue to drive mobile health app adoption, but the industry will need to be patient with clinicians

While the quantified self movement continues to heat up with large companies like Facebook joining the mix, we are still likely 5-10 years away from seeing this new breed of devices, apps, and personal health data play a significant role in how healthcare professionals interact with patients.

While some apps are nothing more than “pedometers on steroids,” others are breaking ground and creating innovative ways to not only collect personal health information, but finding ways to leverage that information to influence behavior and health outcomes. The flood of new companies entering into the mobile health market and investments from established companies predicts a promising future, but the industry is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before reaching its true potential.

3) Successfully integrating healthcare apps into the patient-clinician experience will require supporting research data

There now over 100 FDA approved mobile medical applications. And there are even applications like BlueStar that require a prescription to use.  While patients are leading the charge and driving adoption of many of these applications, clinicians have distinctly different information requirements in order to impact their treatment recommendations. Just like any newly approved drug or medical devices, clinicians will be looking for research data before recommending mobile health apps to patients, even if the app doesn’t require FDA approval.