The market for mobile applications is booming and has spellbound every population group. Calculations of German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM) showed that ten million Germans already have apps on their mobile phones. Business volume in this market segment of telecommunications was EUR 210m in 2011 – a remarkable increase of 123% compared to 2010. Furthermore, the prospects for this relatively young market are good because the number of compatible devices is growing: After selling 7.4m smartphones in 2010, the industry sold 11.8m smartphones last year.
Based on the figures, it is no wonder that more and more apps with a medical background enter the market. BITKOM estimated that 15,000 healthcare apps are available in online stores at the moment – three times as much as in 2010.
This potential has already been recognized by several healthcare providers. Mobile applications are applied when it comes to fighting widespread diseases like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases, asthma or chronic bronchitis. The idea is simple: Specific mobile medical devices collect the patient’s relevant health data and relay it to the respective mobile phone. The mobil phone evaluates the collected data by means of a mobile application and transmits it, if needed, to doctors, hospitals or health centers. This way, diabetics can record their blood sugar levels from the blood glucose meter via Bluetooth in an online diary accessible to a doctor.
Furthermore, by means of mobile applications hearing evaluations and eyesight tests can be carried out or diets can be supported by entering weight data. In hospitals tablet computers and mobile applications are used at visits and allow for reading and updating the electronic health record. Other programs allow for a mobile evaluation of CT and MRI data in the hospital. A growing number of health insurances utilizes apps as well, for example in health prevention measures.
The general tenor of many surveys is that mobile phones will gain in significance in medical care in the coming years. It is expected that mobile healthcare solutions will become widely accepted in the next five years. Two-thirds of the healthcare companies polled in a survey consider that a majority of doctors, nurses and health personnel will use healthcare apps in 2015. It is assumed that the driving forces behind this development are the increasing number of smartphones and a strong demand from patients.
Despite all optimism the market for mobile applications in the healthcare system faces major challenges: At present, their is no independent authority for evaluating uniform quality standards which would be able to build trust with patients. Regulations – like the ones forced by the FDA in the US – could lower innovation impulses. Nevertheless, mobile applications could deserve some reflection from the people in charge in the German healthcare system – with regard to healthcare apps that would create significant benefits for the respective target group.