Digital medical apps are going to revolutionize healthcare. If you don’t believe me, just ask the growing cadre of developers and investors that sees med apps as the next big thing.
According to researchers at Rock Health, a company that runs conferences and business incubators in the mobile health sector, 38% of physicians already use smartphone-based medical apps on a daily basis, and 75% of small and medium size medical and dental offices plan to purchase tablets within the next year. Revenue in the sector grew seven-fold from 2010 to 2011. The global wireless health market is projected to reach $38 billion by 2016.
There are already about 13,000 health-related apps on the market, but you probably don’t have one yet. Only a relative handful of individuals currently use their smartphones to enhance their personal health. But that is soon to change.
The flood of venture financing and growing number of conferences and trade shows confirms that mobile healthcare is destined to transform the way we monitor and manage our health as well as the way we interface with health practitioners and the healthcare system.
The projected benefits of mobile health apps include reduced costs, more personalized healthcare, overcoming barriers of distance and culture, better healthcare coordination and dealing with the shortage of physicians. That would seem to be all that is needed for the emerging sector to achieve prominence.
But that doesn’t mean the prognosis is all positive. We can also reliably project an emerging gap between those that adopt and effectively use the new tools and those that can’t afford them, can’t use them or resist using them.
The new tools have the potential to add a level of personal empowerment and self-responsibility that will greatly enhance individual healthcare. They can increase awareness and self-education. They can give people access to important information and provide both guidance and monitoring that didn’t exist before. But if digital medical apps are to live up to their potential the industry will need to adopt a Literacy 2.0 approach.
The apps will have to be extremely easy to use and will need to employ incentives for people to manage their health more efficiently. In some cases the developers will need to deliver tools that passively assist rather than actively require people to engage. And, the industry will need to take the lead in training and education. The companies will need to help people integrate the new tools and methods into their everyday lives — to develop new digital health literacies.
Healthcare in the digital world is not something you do when you need it; it’s something you are always doing. Of course, that’s what personal healthcare should be anyway, but due to a healthcare system that promises a pill and a procedure for everything and the natural human tendency toward self-denial, that is not generally the case.
The prescription: Take one set of digital medical tools and apps, mix with a strong dose of health literacy, use regularly. Text your physician and your ISP if you experience any unexpected side effects.