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Significant mobile health growth predicted in next 4 years

The trend could be slowed, however, as app developers await regulatory guidance from the FDA.

By — Posted Aug. 12, 2013

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Physicians should prepare for a dramatic increase in the number of patients using mobile devices to monitor and track their health. They also should be ready for mobile devices to become an integrated part of patient treatment plans.

This advice comes from a market report predicting that mobile health will become an increasingly important part of overall health care delivery. A report from research2guidance, a market research firm in Berlin, foresees that the mobile health market will grow by 61% to reach $26 billion by 2017. The majority of that growth will not come from app downloads, but rather hardware, including wearable sensors that will work in conjunction with downloaded apps. Also poised for growth are telemedicine services made possible through mobile devices. The report was published in July by the firm Research and Markets.

The report says mobile health is growing in three phases: pilot, commercialization and integrated. The industry is moving beyond the pilot phase and into the commercialization phase, which is described as a time when the industry will launch a variety of new applications and business models to support the growth.

Report author Ralf-Gordon Jahns, managing director of research2guidance, said physicians are starting to realize that there are great mobile solutions available to help them treat patients. The benefits of mobile technology for patient monitoring and behavior modifications have been cited in several use case studies, he said. Now physicians are looking for the best solutions to help patients. The report also said physicians will be delivering services such as remote consults through mobile devices.

America leads the way

Jahns said the U.S. is more advanced in the mobile health market than other countries because of its higher level of trust in mobile technology, as evidenced by the increasing interest in wearable sensors. A separate report in March from the San Diego research firm ON World also pointed to growth in the wearable sensor market. It said 515 million wearable sensors will be shipped globally by 2017, up from 107 million in 2012.

The integrated phase will involve the integration of mobile apps into traditional treatment plans. Insurers are expected to replace consumers as the primary purchasers of mobile health solutions. But, Jahns wrote, the biggest barrier to reaching the integrated phase is the lack of regulations. In the U.S., many are awaiting regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has indicated plans to regulate the mobile app market for certain apps, but hasn’t issued guidance on which apps will need oversight. The mHealth Regulatory Coalition said the lack of clarification from the FDA has left many developers in limbo. The coalition consists of organizations involved in or supporting mobile health as well as medical device and app developers who will be affected by FDA regulation.

“Right now, many companies are sitting on the sidelines and not developing higher-risk apps because the rules are unclear,” the coalition said in a policy statement published June 18. “They do not want to invest in developing a quality system, taking the time to develop evidence and submitting that evidence to the FDA as needed if their competition is going to be able to undercut them by not investing in FDA compliance.” The coalition is calling on the FDA to publish its guidance on mobile apps as soon as possible.

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