Diagnosing The World Of mHealth

mHealth

The rise of mobile health

If you’re anything like I am, a person who runs without a heart-rate monitor, someone who does not keep track of how many calories he’s burnt while he’s at the gym or how many calories he’s consumed after eating three grapes and a slice of pizza, then you might not be so huge on mHealth or even understand what it is. In its simplest form, mHealth (Mobile Health) is the 'delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices, generally, through the form of apps designed to monitor health indicators, assist with disease management and educate users about preventative health care services'.

Its Staggering Growth & Adoption

Mobile fitness

The Internet has meant that anyone with a working Wi-Fi connection can access a vast ocean of knowledge that was previously mysterious and unknown, reserved only for those who’d been formally educated on the topic in question, or those willing to plough through libraries to find answers to their concerns.

Today, information about health, healthcare and well-being, has become widely available to the general public through the Internet - mHealth apps are built on top of this change, and reflect an extension of this new autonomy we can now take over our own health.

Like most of the applications within the smartphone market, mHealth has seen very impressive growth over the past few years, but its adoption (compared to other industries) did not take off with the same momentum. The simple reason is that for such an important industry, one which depends on the accuracy of its information, the technology simply wasn't up to scratch to provide consumers with appropriate and timely information.

As technology evolved so did the functionality of the apps, and thus the adoption grew as well. Currently, it's believed that roughly 58% of smartphone users now have one or more health apps installed on their device. Truly incredible.

To go with such a high user rate, Businesswire suggests that the mHealth market will account for $18 billion in 2016 alone, and grow at an annual compound rate of 33% over the next 5 years. This though shouldn't come as a surprise considering its connection to the ever-burgeoning wearable tech sector - when combined with wearable tech, mHealth apps will have the ability to branch out and serve a function across numerous and often-interconnected devices spanning from smartphones to smart shoes.

As preventative health measures become more holistic and expansive, so too does the way in which the consumer—from his own perspective—approaches his overall wellbeing, outside the doctor’s office. Here lies the key to why the mHealth industry is growing so rapidly.

What Sort Of Apps Are Out There

Health Mobile Apps

So just what sort of mHealth apps are out there? A quick search through Apple's App Store or Google Play displays thousands of iOS and Android apps designed to help you live, eat and sleep in the most healthy way possible. Generally though, most mHealth apps can be divided into one of three categories: apps designed to monitor your diet, those that log your daily exercise or apps that help you track and manage your key health indicators.

Diet

Most mHealth diet apps are based on a food diary type model, allowing users to record their meals in the app and then receive an exact breakdown of the calories and nutrition they have just consumed. Users can track their daily calorie intake against ongoing fitness goals and receive in-app meal and recipe suggestions. MyFitnessPal is the industry leader in nutrition apps, boasting an extensive database covering 5 million brand name foods, and also offering users the ability to enter recipe ingredients to estimate the nutritional information of any food they are cooking from scratch. Food Switch is another great nutrition app, allowing users to scan the barcodes of different food in the supermarket and view a nutrition breakdown of its contents, or view a list of healthier alternatives.

Fitness

If you don't have the budget for a personal trainer, a great alternative is using an mHealth app to motivate you to work out and record your progress towards your fitness goals. Runkeeper is a great app for this, just switch it on before a run, and after you're done view a GPS map showing how far and how fast you've travelled. If you're interested in tracking and analysing your passive daily exercise then look no further than Argus. The app stays on in the background of your smartphone and tracks your steps, heart rate and other daily health indicators as you go about your daily routine.

Health

It's one thing to monitor your daily diet and excessive levels, but what about more long term health indicators such as your sleep quality? SleepCycle is the perfect companion app to track just how much, and how good an amount of rest you're getting each night. Just open the app and lay your phone down by your pillow as you doze off, and in the morning access a detailed wave chart showing your REM sleep cycles through the night. The app is also programmed to wake you at the lightest stage of your sleep cycle in the morning - just give it some time parameters to work with, and sleep cycle will wake you up at the best time of morning for you. Medisafe is another great mHealth app which allows you to manage ongoing conditions involving medication. the app works by reminding you when and how to take daily medication and also keeps track of any refills or doctors' appointments you may need to address in the future.

The Future of mHealth

Future of mHealth

Companies (i.e. companies in the health sector) are also taking advantage of this piece of incredibly helpful tech. Pharmacies have realised that they are able to use mHealth to cut the cost of developing new drugs, which some estimates show can cost well over $2 billion.

And how do they do this?

The answer: improving processes by including mHealth apps to make gathering data from clinical trials easier and more effective. Another benefit to pharma is that mHealth grants them access to new data, collected by monitoring people’s habits and patterns regarding their health. They then combine this ‘soft data’ with the hard data gathered from the clinical trials, and are able to expand their knowledge and, therefore, build better, more innovative trials in the future.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals are using mHealh for things like remote diagnostics and telemedicine, technology-based diagnostic support, post-visit patient surveillance and getting access to web-based patient information, which is a blessing for both the doctor and the patient.

Where to Next?

It’s obvious that the mHealth industry is on the rise. For one thing, more and more people are using smartphones, which means that mHealth will naturally grow too. Besides that, as the apps evolve and become more accurate, and as new apps are developed that assist medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies and individuals directly—people will be more inclined to begin integrating mHealth into their lives.

Moreover, as wearables become more common and are designed to include more features that complement mHealth apps (ie. smart wristbands that track your heart rate and the amount of calories you’ve burned), expect to see the mHealth industry grow in parallel. Smartphones linked up to sensors that monitor what’s going on in our insides and then send that information via Bluetooth to our mHealth apps, is what we should expect to start seeing more of as time unfolds.

Aside from becoming more widespread, mHealth will become more sophisticated, more capable, and generally more useful. Who knows; it might even evolve to a point where people like me—that is, not particularly organised people—start using mHealth apps.

Stranger things have certainly happened.