mHealth is the use of mobile wireless communication devices for health and health care purposes. The growth in highly functional, or smart, mobile devices has been enormous, with 322 million mobile devices in the US, 48% of which are used for mobile media purposes. A Deloitte Center for Health Solutions report examines the use of these devices for mHealth. (Deloitte Report) As the market for mobile devices becomes fairly saturated, the business opportunity turns more to the functionality of and content delivered to the device. Health care is one of the biggest mobile opportunities, for consumers, providers, payers and life sciences firms. Health information is the fastest-growing content category for US mobile users, up over 134% in 2011 to 18.5 million people. Nine percent of US adult cell phone users have downloaded a health app, but the usage is heavily weighted toward younger people. Health care costs on the other hand, tend to be greatest among the old and a huge percent of overall costs is accounted for by a small percent of the population, who tend not to be big smart phone users, but perhaps their informal caregivers are.
Over 80% of physicians have smart phones, but only 25% use them in their practice, mostly for finding information. Their does seem to be significant opportunity in the provider community for smart phones to increase productivity, improve patient interaction and facilitate coordination across providers. There can be a strong business case for providers, but for consumer usage it is not clear who is going to pay or find it valuable. Fitness and wellness oriented consumers will likely use apps, but they can get many of them free, sometimes from their health plan. And ultimately the health insurers will have to be convinced of the value to continue providing a lot of mobile functionality free. So while there is no doubt that mHealth can provide a lot wonderful functionality and change the patient experience, it is as yet very unclear that it will achieve any significant cost savings or any improvement in outcomes and those are the two things that do and should matter most in health care.