Report says mHealth sensor market will grow 70% annually — but what about slow adoption?

3:14 pm by | 2 Comments

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Last week I read and wrote about a physician survey which suggested that few people are using mobile health apps to track data and share it with their doctors (although a reader noted that the Pew data I referenced likely underestimates the self-tracking that’s really going on).

This week, a market research firm put out a report forecasting that the mobile health sensor market will grow nearly 70 percent over each of the next five years. Mobile industry research firm research2guidance estimates that the revenue generated by health-related products that pair sensors with mobile apps will reach $5.6 billion by 2017.

This left me with some cognitive dissonance. There are certainly more cool technologies, more sensors and more apps – but if people aren’t using them, how are they going to draw in more revenue?

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I tried to put my skepticism aside and consider why people just aren’t using them yet. research2guidance pointed out that most of the sensors and apps that are being developed or marketed turn medical products or processes into consumer products, meaning they’re less clunky and more fashionable than traditional medical devices. Take, for example, wristbands worn by seniors to detect falls and notify caregivers, helmet sensors that send coaches mobile alerts when a player has sustained a potentially dangerous blow, or sensor-embedded bath mats to detect diabetic foot ulcers. Others are add-ons to medical products, like Asthmapolis’ clip-on for asthma inhalers, which connects to an app that tracks when and where a person’s asthma attacks happen.

Consumers now are increasingly being incentivized by their employers to adopt healthy behaviors. Meanwhile, their healthcare providers are being pushed to do more in the way of preventive health and disease management (the focus of many of these sensors and apps), as reimbursement becomes value-based and ACOs continue forming. Since many people seem to think that physicians are the driving force in overhauling how care is delivered, perhaps those two forces will encourage growth in adoption of mobile products.

The report notes that to this point, the market has been dominated by small technology companies, but now bigger brands with more muscle, like Samsung and Nike, are joining the mix. It also notes a shift in the business model: “The sensor business model will shift from proprietary solutions, which are only working with a single app, to open systems, which allow connections to multiple apps,” it says.

One more factor worth mentioning is that, for a while, some mobile health companies seemed to be uneasy about the lack of clarity from the FDA on how it would regulate these kinds of devices and apps. Now that the FDA has cleared that up, there might be more activity in the way of apps for clinical use.

Whether that will all add up to a $5.6 billion market for mHealth sensor technology, though, I’m not going to hold my breath.

[Photo from BodyMedia]

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Deanna Pogorelc

By Deanna Pogorelc MedCity News

Deanna Pogorelc is a Cleveland-based reporter who writes obsessively about life science startups across the country, looking to technology transfer offices, startup incubators and investment funds to see what’s next in healthcare. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University and previously covered business and education for a northeast Indiana newspaper.
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2 comments
Colin Anawaty
Colin Anawaty like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Great article on challenges with adoption. It's worth noting that there are a lot of great health tracking apps out there, Nike has been setting the bar in great design and usability. And, apps like "Moves" don't require me to purchase any additional hardware to track my walkings, running, or cycling as long as I have my phone with me. However, I still believe only a small percentage of people really care to track their daily behavior in this manner.

The problem with rising costs of healthcare is simply this: "More than 90% of type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary artery disease, 70% of stroke, and 70% of colon cancer are potentially preventable" by that combination of moderate behavior changes reported Harvard epidemiologist, Walter C. Willett.

Therefore, I believe a lot of these tracking products are addressing the symptoms when we really should be focused on behavior change at the psychological level. After my 5th trip to central america where their diet consists of fruit, rice, and fish, it's clear to me they'll never need many of these products. Pura vida!

The Power of Habit is a great book I highly recommend reading for people interested in this field of research. I recently started a company with a great friend and behavior designer around this idea, and believe habit formation will be key in reducing health costs over the long-term.

Ron Clark MD
Ron Clark MD

Deanna, Nice article.  The mHealth sensor technology market is untapped and there are companies, such as Quick, www.quickappcompany.com , who are developing applications and technology (hardware and software) with the FDA and FCC approval processes in mind.  There are innovators who are responsible and reasonable and from my stand point as an Emergency Physician and Co-Founder of Quick, having a FDA approved smart device product that end users can use daily to monitor, assess or improve their health is valuable and the potential for innovators, who act responsibly, is unlimited.