I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the convergence of mobile devices and consumer healthcare. I believe there are three changes happening that are creating a perfect storm for a new wave of mobile medical devices.
1. Standardized Mobile Operating Systems (OS)
Before android or iOS came along, engineers that wanted to build a mobile medical device had to develop the software and the hardware. There were no standard, mobile operating systems in place that made software development scalable for medical devices. Sure there was MS Windows, Linux and other OS in existence, but none of these worked really well for small, mobile hardware. Engineers were required to use Programable Micro Controllers (PICs) and related devices. With the advent of android and iOS, it is now possible to write software without having to worry about the underlying supporting architecture and hardware.
2. Wireless Connectivity
The healthcare industry is inundated with expenses and impossible budgets. This is largely due to high volumes of patient visits and patient readmissions. Many of these visits are for simple physician checkups in order to conduct things like blood pressure measurement or EKG measurement. The information obtained from these frequent tasks are required to make the physician smarter about the patient so that they can implement the right treatment. The combinations of measurement devices and smartphones would allow these simple tasks to be done in the home and relayed back to the physician wirelessly.
3. Consumer Adoption
According to Gartner, total smart phone sales in 2011 reached 472 million units and accounted for 31 percent of all mobile devices sales, up 58 percent from 2010.” It’s no secret that people everywhere are using smart phone devices. If they aren’t, they will be very soon as it’s only a matter of time. Since consumers already have possession of these mobile devices, they are already in a position to buy a third-party accessory. Just like you might buy an iPhone case or a portable speaker, owners of smart phones could just as easily buy blood pressure measurement units or other medical plug-ins. Furthermore, the costs of a mobile medical device would be significantly lower because the consumer already effectively paid for half of the device – the phone.
So I think this market will emerge, but I’m not sure how long it will take. To understand that, there are two big question marks in my mind that need to addressed. The first is whether or not consumers care enough about their health in order to make them proactively engaged with one of these devices. I do think this could be overcome with things like game mechanics. The second is whether or not there will be a favorable environment with regards to governmental regulations, although I do think we are heading in the right direction. The HITECH Act, part of the 2009 stimulus bill, states that doctors are eligible for $44,000 in subsidies if they deploy “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHRs) – keyword there being “electronic.” So it’s clear that we are moving in the right direction. It’s just a matter of how long it will take before we get there. I don’t know when our phones will be our personal doctors, but I do know it will happen.