Taking Mobile Health into Mainstream Health Care

Tuesday 10/28/14 09:00am
Posted By Leilani DeLeon
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To all mobile developers: Thanks for all the health and fitness apps you’ve been building on the wellness side. Now let’s get busy on apps for the millions of people with big-time health problems.

That was one of the main takeaways from our Uplinq 2014 session, “Taking Mobile Health into Mainstream Health Care.” Panelists explored life sciences, incentives, barriers to entry and, most of all, where the money is for developers going from mobile wellness apps to true mobile health apps.

Richard Yang, vice president of corporate sales and connected solutions at Dexcom, moderated the panel and led it through questions of interest to current and aspiring health care app developers. I’ll summarize the highlights of the discussion.

Doctor discusses healthcare with patient using a mobile tablet

Biggest Barriers To Entry

Matthew Diamond, director of medical at Misfit, said that the first question his company posed in developing its Flash and Shine activity trackers for consumers was “Who needs yet another activity monitor?” Misfit knew that it had to differentiate its products externally though style and make them devices that people wanted to wear. At the functional level, Misfit chose to track all physical activity – including sleep – which distinguishes their products from some others in the category.

Mikki Nasch, CEO of AchieveMint, noted that developers who understand both health care and mobile are difficult to find. Her company has found many of the developers they try to recruit for their rewards platform know health care but are still working in older technologies like .NET.

Nasch also talked about customer-side obstacles AchieveMint faces in the separate health and life sciences markets. Health and wellness customers easily see the benefits of reward programs, but life science companies think in terms of pharmaceuticals. It’s more difficult for them to see how to develop services around drugs, so even though they represent a viable market, it’s necessary for developers to show them how an app can help sell pharmaceuticals.

Where Is The Money?

Panpan Wang directs partnerships at Jiff, Inc., a platform that combines health care, social networking and gaming for employers and employees. Without hesitation, Wang said that any app, tool or pill that helps people stop smoking is the Holy Grail of health care. Employers and payers care about the dramatic effect that smoking cessation has on personal health, which is why lots of money and incentives are thrown at it all the time, but few good offerings have surfaced so far.

For Lindsey Irvine, global director of industries marketing at Salesforce.com, the money is entirely in business-to-business. Corporate activity and fitness programs are hot, so B2B prospects have 30 vendors trying to sell them 30 different things. The opportunity for app developers is to bring those products together for them so that they can work with three vendors instead of a dozen.

As I mentioned at the outset, Nasch observed that the wellness side is well served by mobile apps, but the health side is not. “We’re spending all our time on the one percent of people who are healthy,” she said, “yet there’s not much for mood tracking, diabetes and indicators of large-scale health problems.” Nasch believes the problem is that there’s not enough money in these kinds of health apps. Yet.

Do Incentives Really Work?

Diamond emphasized that “incentives” is an important word in health care, fitness and wellness, since behavior change doesn’t come naturally for most people. Misfit’s approach involves community engagement: the context of friends, family, providers and fellow users of Misfit products. While motivation waxes and wanes for any one user, the motivation of the group sustains everybody.

In Irvine’s experience, not offering incentive is an important box your competitors can check that you can’t. She said that the promise of $500 to people who sign up nets a lot more users than the promise of an app that will change their behavior.

Nasch demurred, saying that incentives are good for initial but not sustained engagement. She counseled the marketing-like approach of nurturing, engaging, sustaining and rekindling the relationship over time. A case in point was a mobile campaign in Pakistan that sent text messages to pregnant mothers to get them to take better care of their unborn children. When the voice of the messages changed from the government telling the women what to do to that of the unborn child telling the women what it needed, the resulting uptick in prenatal health in the community was radical.

Where incentives could play in favor of app developers, Nasch admitted, is if insurers offered discounts on premiums for verifiably healthy activity – “we’ll lower your premium if you show us your data. “ That would increase opportunities for health-related apps and devices. Auto insurance works that way; why not health insurance?

Next Steps

The session was part of our Business Insights track at Uplinq™ 2014, aimed at getting above the interfaces and chipsets so you can build your business out. Keep an eye out for more posts in this series, and let me know in the comments what else you’d like to see.

Watch the full video recording of the panel discussion for more details on the session.