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There’s no doubt that the mHealth market is growing rapidly. Chilmark Research projects that by 2017, the market will exceed $1.1 billion. But according to IMS Research’s Wireless Opportunities in Health and Wellness Monitoring – 2012 Edition, medical devices bought by consumers to self-monitor their health will account for more than 80 percent of all wireless-enabled consumer medical devices in 2016. That’s reasonable, rational, understandable and unfortunate.
Reasonable, because it’s easy for an individual consumer to make a decision to purchase what appears to be a tool that can keep him/her healthy. This is especially true given the emergence of a relatively affluent aging population. Rational, because developers – many of them new to health and healthcare – understand how to develop for markets that, unlike healthcare, are driven by consumer purchases. Understandable, because we lack an infrastructure in which applications can interoperate. It is even more understandable as awareness builds of the complexity of selling into a market that is highly complex and regulated.
Unfortunate, because for mHealth to be truly impactful, it is essential that it supports what needs to be a collaborative effort by individuals, health providers and the universe of payers.
I’m not asserting that people don’t need to take more responsibility for their own health. They do: The reality of today’s healthcare environment requires the active involvement of the patient. It is just that in order to be effective, healthcare and the maintenance of health need to be a team sport. And there are multiple efforts to support collaboration and interoperability. Qualcomm, with Qualcomm Life and its 2net Platform, and AT&T’s mHealth Platform, among others, are working to provide a space where developers can reach a broad population. Open mHealth is helping to build an open architecture that allows applications to interoperate and communicate with multiple platforms and services. The FDA is trying to find the right balance of encouraging development while assuring the safety and effectiveness of mobile medical applications that present a potential risk to patients. The NIH and NSF have worked to help develop new ways of demonstrating evidence. And we at RWJF have been looking more broadly and how to demonstrate value.
I feel that these are all necessary actions to allow us to move from the promise of mHealth to the delivery of better health status, but they are not sufficient to achieve this. There are parts of the mosaic that are missing, and there is a need for an environment that facilitates these separate activities working together. While the platform efforts of Qualcomm, AT&T and others are trying to address one aspect of the “silo-ization” of mobile health and Open mHealth is addressing another, there’s a need to bring together a broader community of players so that the collective needs and competencies of developers, individuals, providers, payers and researchers can be shared.
When that happens, the potential of mHealth can be most easily achieved.
Albert Shar, PhD, is vice president and program officer for the Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). RWJF’s mission is to improve the health and healthcare of all Americans, and the Pioneer team seeks bold ideas that push beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions that will transform health and healthcare.
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