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Study: mHealth App Market Grows, Yet Barriers Remain

September 18, 2015
by Heather Landi
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There are now more than 165,000 mobile health apps available in the U.S., yet most continue to have limited functionality and barriers remain for connecting mHealth app data to providers’ clinical data, which hinders full adoption of mHealth into healthcare management, according to the findings of an IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics study.

According to the IMS Institute’s recently released report about consumer-focused mHealth apps, the number of mHealth apps has nearly doubled in the past two years and almost a quarter of consumer apps are now focused on disease and treatment management, while two-thirds target fitness and wellness. Mental health apps led among disease specific apps, followed by diabetes.

For the study, researchers drew on IMS Health’s AppScript Score database and analysis of 26,864 apps available in the U.S. The study found that app connectivity has become a major focus for app developers, with one in ten apps now having some capability to connect to a device or sensor. This connectivity provides biofeedback and physiological function data from the patient and greatly extends the accuracy and convenience of data collection, according to the IMS Institute study.

As part of the study, the IMS Institute also interviewed healthcare provider executives on the role and status of healthcare apps.

“What we heard from those provider representatives was excitement about the potential for mHealth apps and they see broader app use as a key part of their programs to improve the wellness of their members and patients and the operation of their healthcare system. That being said, healthcare providers did point out that barriers to full, mainstream adoption remain,” Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, said in a conference call.

“While much progress has been made over the past two years, mHealth apps are still far from being a fully integrated component of healthcare delivery,” he said.

Many healthcare providers cited the integration of mHealth data with electronic health records (EHRs) as critical to better clinical decision-making and patient communication, according to the study.

“We heard from providers that they are urging stakeholders to actively address some of the remaining barriers, including the limited connectivity and integration into workflow systems and a slow paradigm shift in reimbursement processes and delivery of care,” Aitken said.

Another significant provider concern regarding the use of mHealth apps, according the study, was an inability to reach “the most vulnerable cohorts of patients, namely the elderly and non-English speakers,” Aitken said.

The study concluded, “While progress is being made, elderly patients and those with language barriers are still underserved by the mHealth marketplace. Full implementation will require addressing those patients that are not sophisticated app users to increase skills and comfort levels in using the technology.”

“Reaching the most vulnerable populations is necessary to achieve the full potential of mHealth in disease management. The use of mHealth apps provides a viable option for patients to stay informed about their conditions, record health data and achieve virtual disease management by healthcare providers,” the study stated.

The study also found that data confidentiality, privacy, security and regulatory uncertainties were among provider concerns about the use of mHealth apps.

Healthcare leaders also cited the need for more research studies focused on the efficacy of app usage on improving patient outcomes. The IMS Institute study reported that momentum is building for observational studies and randomized clinical trials to yield stronger evidence supporting the value and efficacy of mHealth apps, specifically in the areas of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental health.

The study also found that platforms for rating, evaluating and, in some cases, certifying apps are becoming available to healthcare providers, which could prompt more providers to prescribe apps as part of disease prevention and treatment protocols. The study also reported that when a healthcare professional prescribed an mHealth app to patients, 30-day retention rates were 10 percent higher than when patients self-selected mHealth apps.

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