In the future, your medical app may come from your hospital not from an app store

So says a recently published report by Research2Guidance, a mobile technology research company based in Germany. In their report, titled “Health Market Report 2010-2015″, the market researchers came to the conclusion that the dominant mode of application distribution in the future will be from doctors, hospitals and other care providers.

The report also painted a bullish picture of health care app adoption, estimating that the number of users of mHealth apps on smartphone phones will reach 500m by 2015. However, the revenue from this sector will still be driven mostly by device sales and through provision of services, rather than by paid downloads.

The report preview shows it to be organized into three “dimensions”: a) The smartphone market, b) The current state of the mHealth market & c) mHealth outlook to 2015. One would imagine that the last portion will be the most avidly read read as the numerous stockholders in mHealth – telecoms, device makers, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and entrepreneurs jockey to position themselves in this rapidly evolving land grab.

In this outlook section, Research2Guidance tries to predict what new business models and revenue sources may develop in the next five years,  the growth of specific types of applications and to identify future potential businesses.  While iMedicalApps does not have access to the complete report, the research methodology as described to us by one of the authors was an on-line questionnaire conducted during Summer 2010. There were a total of 231 companies involved in mobile health, with global reach. Some of these companies included: AT&T, Bayer, Ericsson, IBM, Nokia, Nuvon, Sapient & Sprint.  The report release has been covered by other medical sites, including MedHealthWorld and MobiHealthNews.

What struck us is the prediction that app distribution in the future will be done mostly by providers of health care, rather than teleccom and device vendors.

This prediction seems logical, although difficult to imagine presently in light of the wild success of Apple’s App store and the rush of other vendors trying to imitate it. What Apple accomplished was hiding the complexity of application installation from the user. Along the way, the problems of software distribution (all publishers instantly had global reach) and security from viruses and rogue applications were (mostly) eliminated.

While this was a revolution for consumers and led to the dawn of the current age of smartphnoes, it is nevertheless not adequate in the realm of health information technology where isolated data stores are dead-ends. In particular, the ability to reference clinical evidence, prescribe medications or communicate with other providers is of greatly diminished value unless all parties have simultaneous access to the same patient record.

Some of the exciting future developments in tying together medical apps will probably come from the Direct Project which allows email-like secure communication among health care providers, and the Health Accelerator Apps Network, which is laying the foundation for a web of interconnected applications and data stores.

Therefore, it makes sense that in the future hospitals and other provider networks will be the ones to develop and distribute networked apps for their providers. These powerful apps will be an extension of physicians’ “desktops”, extending our tools from hospitals and offices seamlessly onto mobile devices. If we are lucky, these future apps will have built in API’s or hook for secure  communication with a broad network of innovative applications built by tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, that further enhance and extend their functionality. And then maybe we can remember the present age of data silos as a temporary aberration.

Author:

Felasfa Wodajo, MD

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