I read an article in the Aug. 19 New York Times headlined, “Coming Next: Using an App as Prescribed” by Joshua Brustein. It discusses companies like Happtique and Welldoc that are creating the backbone of a system to allow doctors to prescribe apps. The notion of “prescription apps” has been buzzing about for years at digital agencies, and has also been laughed at – until now.
While there is a plethora of health and wellness apps available (around 40,000 and counting), when a company like Welldoc is able to report in a clinical trial that use of its DiabetesManager app significantly reduced the blood sugar levels in diabetes patients, it’s time for everyone to sit up and take notice about what the implications could be across the entire health system value chain. We are at a tipping point in the health app landscape that is making it necessary for any business in the health and wellness space to get serious about their mobile/app business strategy and to start thinking about the apps they will need to develop alongside their existing products and services. Here are a few reasons the tipping point is upon us:
1. Consumer behavior – smartphones have enormous reach (and continue to grow), and 61% of U.S. consumers are interested in devices that allow them to track their health data and connect with their doctors, according to the Deloitte 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers Global Report.
Investment is here – mobile health investment ballooned from $200 million in 2010 to almost $550 million in 2011, according to Mobihealthnews’ “Mobile Health, State of the
Industry,” covering 2010, 2011, and Q1 2012. This investment is driven by small venture-backed start-ups that show up at SXSW, as well as large companies like Qualcomm that created a $100
million wireless health venture fund called the Qualcomm Life Fund.
3. The mobile health ecosystem is becoming defined – two health insurers have agreed to cover the reimbursement of Welldoc’s $100 diabetes management apps. Redbrick, a Minnesota-based start-up, is developing an open health- and fitness-tracking platform and app certification protocol to help companies keep their employees motivated to proactively manage their health, increasing productivity, reducing health care costs and maintaining healthier employee relationships. The platform can accommodate data from popular consumer apps like RunKeeper and FitBit. Consumer focused products like Nike + and FuelBand continue to gain traction.
4. The FDA continues to develop regulation – according to the aforementioned New York Times article, to date fewer than 10 apps have gained clearance from the FDA (of which DiabetesManager is one). Other clearances have been granted for apps that can be used as medical devices, such as ones that read x-rays or handle electronic health records. Additional FDA guidelines around mobile apps are slated to roll out by the end of the year.
Success could one day make apps a requirement for many conditions. If the success of an app is measured by the amount of cost it reduces in the overall healthcare system (as a result of healthier patients), we might see the day when an “app(s) script” is a required part of treatment alongside behavior change and drug therapy. For instance, controlling diet and maintaining a steady exercise routine are the behavior modifications required of some pretty costly and serious diagnoses such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension.
What is interesting is that a lot of these apps give us the hard data around the lifestyle component of treatment that has been missing from the doctor-patient dialogue. Until now, we've had to rely on patient self-reported information around diet and exercise. Now it can “automatically” get into the record digitally and impact prognosis, treatment and costs.
Healthcare companies need to incorporate apps, beyond marketing, to address this potential new treatment paradigm of drug therapies plus apps.