By Peter Houston.
Mobile health is getting some serious attention this month — from an unusual but inspiring new Apple ad to some grandiose forecasts for mHealth’s potential impact on European budgets, the first reimbursable mobile app to an ambitious new study setting out to spotlight the best examples of mHealth by the leading Pharma companies.
It’s hardly surprising given the explosive growth of mobile internet access and the fact that 2013 looks set to become something of a mobile tipping point.Here are some numbers to set the scene:
• Web traffic originating from mobile devices — that’s phones and tablets — has almost doubled in a year, passing 20 percent for the first time.
• The number of internet-connected mobile devices will exceed the number of desktop and laptop PCs for the first time in 2013.
• There will be more mobile internet-connected devices by the end of this year than there are humans on the planet.
In this context, it’s interesting that Apple, better known for it’s sophisticated design ethos and on-demand entertainment services, has released a video celebrating iOS apps that improve the life of users. Among the platform upgrade and device promos on Apple’s YouTube channel, a new ad called “Making a difference. One app at a time” kicks off in Kenya with a community nurse using the Skyscape medical resource app to deliver advice on breastfeeding. Other segments introduce apps for calibrating prosthetic limbs and helping a non-verbal child communicate with his mother.
Finally, the world is ready to move on from Angry Birds and see the serious side of app technology.
If it is, the GSM Association — the group that represents the world’s mobile telephone operators — believes it could have a real impact on healthcare costs. Earlier in the month the GSMA released research that claims the widespread adoption of mHealth in Europe would bring significant socio-economic benefits. Researched by PwC, the report claims that increased adoption of mobile technology in the delivery of healthcare could bring savings of almost €100 billion to the European health budget by 2017 and add €93 billion to GDP.
The mobile-operators association predicts that increased use of mobile tech in healthcare would extend and improve the quality of life for patients while reducing per capita healthcare costs by 17 percent. Patients suffering chronic conditions would benefit from improved treatment compliance and remote monitoring, cutting chronic care costs up to 35 percent. mHealth would accommodate the treatment of an additional 24.5 million patients without requiring more doctors or new healthcare facilities, says the GSMA.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Pharma-Tech story if there weren’t barriers to adoption of mHealth. GSMA lists the old standards of regulation and integration with legacy healthcare systems as getting in the way. It warns that unless the multiple barriers that prevent mHealth from being adopted commercially and achieving scale are removed, “the adoption of mHealth could be limited to about 10 per cent of its potential in 2017.” Plus ca change.
The good news is some mHealth apps are making it over the obstacles. About a year ago the New York Times reported that two unnamed US health insurers had agreed to reimburse $100 a month for the use of a mobile-enabled diabetes management program. This month WellDoc has launched BlueStar, which it says is the first mobile health product to secure reimbursement as a diabetes therapy, adjudicated as a pharmacy benefit like other prescription products. The app provides real-time motivational and educational coaching for diabetes management including advice on diet and exercise choices and medication adherence.
And it’s at this point that Pharma should probably start paying attention. As mobile technology gets ever more ubiquitous, mHealth apps will offer drug companies a powerful weapon in their fight to get closer to HCPs and patients.
Welcome support in the struggle comes in the shape of a new initiative from the Digital Health Coalition and Juice Pharma Worldwide. The digital health advocacy group and the leading healthcare agency are joining forces to “evaluate the current landscape of mobile by pharmaceutical companies across 75 of the top brands today”.
The Mobile Media Landscape project will review the top pharmaceutical brands for their level of mobile “readiness” and spotlight the latest thinking in mobile pharma with a view to sharing industry learning. “By providing this resource to the industry we believe we can help the innovators out there demonstrate the world of digital health is moving forward, one project at a time,” said Joe Farris, co-founder of Digital Health Coalition, in the release announcing the project launch.
The first report from the project is due in the final quarter of this year — perfect really, given that 2013 is fast shaping up to be the year of mobile.