A market research firm called Kalorama Information said that while medical related apps only represent about 2% of the market, that market was worth $150 million in 2011, and the figure should grow by 25% annually through 2016. Although physicians and patients are starting to get on board with mobile health, or mHealth apps, it’s worthwhile to look at some of the benefits and disadvantages.
Substantial Savings for Developing Countries
It’s no secret that access to healthcare often comes with a high price tag and that’s especially true for some developing countries. A report published by GSMA and PricewaterhouseCoopers found that by the end of 2017, developing countries could save as much as $400 billion on healthcare costs by using mHealth opportunities.
The Ability to Reach People More Quickly
Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine the most efficient ways to distribute information among patients, especially after events like natural disasters or during health crises like flu epidemics. However, the Pew Research Group found that 46% of Americans have a smartphone, and 19% of those are already using some sort of health related application. Promoting awareness about mHealth wouldn’t mean that every person could be reached, but if those statistics are any indication, it would at least be helpful in spreading the word about health concerns when it matters most.
Apps May Be Launched Too Quickly
Although estimates vary, some statistics say there are at least 15,000 health apps on the market. As mentioned above, the trend is growing, but, in some cases, that could mean that developers rush to get an app on the market without fully testing it or being sensitive to end-user needs. Functionality should not be inserted into an app without having a clearly defined purpose because that might create confusion and interfere with adoption of mHealth options by patients and providers alike.
Mobile Reminders May Hamper the Technologically Challenged
Research from Emarketer.com found that people are much more likely to open a text message than look at something sent through e-mail. Although text message medication reminders or similar features could be helpful, they might do more harm than good for older generations who are still trying to get a handle on how text messages work. For example, some people are not initially aware that they may be getting charged every time a text message is received, and not understand how to opt out.
Technology Can’t Replace Human Initiative
Even the most well-designed mobile applications will be useless if patients aren’t willing to interact with them and learn what they do. An app must be downloaded, and sometimes tweaked for particular needs. Also, some devices, like those intended to measure medication compliance, often come with parts that must be set up in a person’s home, along with components downloaded online. If someone’s not willing to go through the steps or find someone to help, mobile applications lose their benefits.
As with any emerging technology, mHealth has several positive and negative factors to consider. Although we’ve covered just a few, many are sure to come to light as additional opportunities become available in the fledgling marketplace. Being aware of the good and bad factors should help people make smarter decisions about whether certain mHealth applications might help, or just be a hinderance.
Tracy Rentz is an avid blogger. Interested in working in public health? You may want to get your masters in public health from USC.