My Four mHealth Trends – 3/2/12

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I wrote my prediction for 2012 in January. I came up with 15 predictions at that time. Some were specific and some were very high level. To be honest, that was my first predictions post so I’m still learning.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time shortening my writing. It’s a good exercise to be concise but not always easy to sum up a concept or product in a couple sentences. If you can’t sum it up, it’s probably too complicated and/or lacks focus.

So, in the spirit of brevity and non-hedging, and on the heels of HIMSS and my recent mHealth Zone interview, I’m going to list what I consider to be the 4 most important trends to watch in mobile health.

1) Partnerships define the mHealth success stories (Voalte, EXTENSION, iTriage, AirStrip). The success stories we know about in mobile health right now are being driven by partnerships. Healthcare is an incredibly massive, fragmented industry so finding partnerships with certain players that can help consolidate and scale sales is the key. I think we’ll see lots more of this going forward. I also think we’ll see entrenched players in healthcare start to realize that partnerships will help them maintain entrenched status and gain a competitive advantage.

2) Patient engagement remains hype and hope. I love engaged patients, I really do. I just don’t know many of them. With engagement, mobile is crucial but so is provider integration and payment reform, neither of which I think we’ll see enough of in 2012 to move beyond hype.

3) Failed investments. It’s great to see investment money flowing into healthcare technology and mobile health ventures. I’m also not one to complain as I’m in the process of raising money myself. When you start with a $2 trillion dollar potential market opportunity, even risky investments start to seem worth it. But, in reality, I think a lot of investments are a little too early or the known opportunities too crowded (take secure physician communication and readmission prevention as examples). We will definitely see some investments making returns but many will not, which is I guess how VC funding works anyway. Lots of seed investments meant to get companies 12-18 months worth of operations (runway, in startup-speak) are going to fail as the market is just not ready; they are seed investments so this isn’t really ground shattering. My point is that most of the investments we see, and I report on, will not succeed. As optimistic as some are about the pace of change in healthcare, I think it will continue to move slower than most of us would like, especially because patients (real patients, the ones that make up chunks of the $2 trillion) and providers are not ideal customers.

4) People are going to start realizing that mobile tech, and tech generally, are only a part of the solution. OK, so this a trend I’d like to see but think 2012 is a little premature. I love technology that enables or coordinates services but I’ve been in investor meetings where the services component is blown off because it generates lower valuation multipliers. A question I’ve heard is “why not give them an Android tablet and some connected devices to collect that data and trigger automatic alerts instead of calling them?” Those technologies are great, though I really don’t see them as differentiators. I think human touch points, especially when it comes to health, are imperative. Just providing technology, without connected services and non-virtual contact, is not a viable solutions for healthcare. Unfortunately, services can be a lot harder to manage and scale.

Did I succeed in summing up the entire mHealth space? No, but I tried to put my spin on it.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.


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