I was on vacation last week and much more out of touch than planned. I was in northern Door County, WI, a peninsula between Lake Michigan and Green Bay (don’t feel bad if you aren’t familiar with it — I had no clue where it was a year ago). Growing up close to the beach in Florida and having lived in Colorado after that, I wasn’t planning on being terribly impressed with Wisconsin’s summer getaway, but I was, and I find myself wanting to go back. I’ve had my fill of whitefish and cherry-everything for a while, though. I’ve come home feeling refreshed.
Is it just me, or have there been lots of articles and posts the last several weeks debating the hype and reality of mobile health? I think lots of writers and commentators just regurgitate the same material they read, not really adding anything new to the discussion other than maybe a couple of links. This is probably the case with all the mobile health hype stories. I’m not sure who or what to credit with starting the hype discussion.
Maybe I’m not any better since I’m writing about it, but I wanted to weigh in because I disagree with the conclusions I’ve been reading. I’ve also been contacted by investors recently to ask about hype in the mobile health space, so I figured I’d document my thoughts.
To start, there is too much hype in mobile health right now if you take what you read as anything close to reality. Lots of interesting apps and services are being discussed and/or developed but they don’t have much real impact today. I think this overhype is the inevitable outcome from several trends.
First, the government is driving change (or at least driving dollars) into the healthcare system, and this is a very real opportunity to create new services to improve healthcare delivery and healthcare outcomes. Second, creating mobile apps or services is cheaper than ever, especially when developers build isolated solutions. Third, seed funding is readily available. Fourth, technical talent is flocking to healthcare.
So the hype is more about what may be, and not about what is happening today for docs or patients. That’s fine, too, because that’s what hype usually is about. If it was real, it wouldn’t be hype, right? The real questions is whether mobile health will live up to the hype.
Summing up the current view of how that will happen, once we get to a tipping point apps and passive monitors (sensors) will be everywhere, we’ll have more big data than we know what do to with. We’ll change people’s lifestyles (which they’ve had most or all of their lives) with personalized, socialized, gamified, visualized content.
That to me sounds a bit overstated and overhyped. But my bigger concern is what I keep reading will lead to the tipping point for health apps — a patient/consumer spring that will "demand" and "clamor" for mobile health apps. As much as I’d love to see consumers clamoring for apps that make them healthier, I think waiting on them is going to not be well received by investors waiting for a return on their investments. I’m talking health, not wellness and quantified self.
How can we reach this tipping point and bring mobile health solutions to scale? First, I think providers and health systems are essential and need to be the ones demanding health apps, not consumers. For this to happen, I think larger health systems will be the big drivers — Kaiser, Intermountain, Geisinger, Denver Health, VA, Mayo, and a bunch of others I’m less familiar with. These systems have the resources and the grant writers and are thinking beyond Meaningful Use. I think we’ll see them driving adoption and evidence.
As mobile health moves beyond these larger systems, the key to adoption is finding incentives for community docs and practices to use them. The other key to moving out of integrated systems is creating apps that provide a continuity of patient experience across settings so patients don’t need an app for their GI, an app for their cardiologist, an app for their PCP, an app for their lab, and an app for their pharmacy. This continuity of patient experience isn’t unique to mobile. This is going to be a pretty big challenge, but I’m confident we’re going to see some real, viable solutions for this in the near future, though seeing them at scale will take a lot more time.
I’ve come to realize I don’t share the optimism of some of my counterparts and some of the luminaries in mobile health. But I do see most of the potential. I just disagree on the path and time to that potential.