Mobile Health Apps to Triple by 2012, Presenting Challenges for Mobile Networks: Report

A new report by Pyramid Research reveals that 70 percent of respondents want access to m-health applications, even if they have to pay for it.

The mobile health market is growing substantially and will increase threefold by 2012, presenting both challenges and opportunities for MNOs (mobile network operators) and companies across the mobile technology spectrum, according to a new report by Pyramid Research.

M-health uses CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), GSM and WiFi smartphones as well as medical devices such as blood glucose meters to transmit health information over cellular networks.

"Health care solutions that are delivered via mobile technology are creating a new frontier of innovation that is driving down costs, increasing access and improving quality of care," Denise Culver, an analyst at large at Pyramid, said in a statement.

In its report, "Health Check: Key Players in Healthcare," Pyramid highlights MNOs such as AT&T, BT, Orange and Telef??nica as companies that will benefit in particular from the m-health boom.

"Technology and telecommunications providers are well positioned for developing, extending and marketing m-health applications," Culver said. "Many of these players already have established relationships with health care providers and payers, and many benefit from large, global scale," she added.

With MNOs' understanding of how to distribute consumer devices, they'll make up for health care companies' lack of experience in this area, according to Culver.

"MNOs can leverage m-health applications as part of an enterprise vertical-differentiation strategy," she said. "They have the chance to create m-health solutions that combine voice, messaging, data, security and other current offerings, which will increase customer loyalty and create value-added services."

In addition to MNOs, manufacturers such as Apple, RIM and Ericsson, as well as mobile health application providers such as CardioNet and Epocrates, will benefit from increased interest in mobile apps, according to Culver.

On Nov. 16, Epocrates acquired health app developer Modality to grow its software portfolio on Apple's iOS.

Hardware and software vendors that are likely to be increasingly active in m-health include Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Oracle, Culver said.

With the growth of m-health will come organizational challenges, according to Pyramid. The health care industry will need to adopt m-health applications that reduce the cost of helping patients, quicken time to market and improve patient care.

One of the top health care IT trends to watch in 2011, m-health has yet to become an application class that m-health providers can monetize. In fact, MNOs will need to charge per text message or per transaction, according to Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and the Healthcare IT Guy blogger.

"The traditional ways of making money on software and telecom-per message or minute charges-look like the only way right now," Shah told eWEEK.

"People understand m-health will work technically; now, how do we make it pay for itself so the business and technology side can be tied together going forward?" he added.

Despite the difficulties in making money on health apps, 70 percent of the people Pyramid interviewed for its December 2010 survey want access to m-health and are willing to pay for it.

Companies have been reluctant to invest in developing m-health services, which involves teaching health care providers, patients and payers how to use the services, and getting them reimbursed, Pyramid reports.

Countries such as India and South Africa have benefited from m-health in the past because landline and broadband services are limited there.