According to a recent study by IMS Health, there were 165,000 mHealth apps available on the Google Play and iTunes app stores as of September. Of course, not all of these apps are equally popular — in fact, 40% had been downloaded less than 5,000 times — but that still leaves almost 100,000 apps attracting at least some consumer attention.
On the whole, I’m excited by these statistics. While there’s way too many health apps to consider at present, the spike in apps is a necessary part of the mobile healthcare market’s evolution. Over the next few years, clear leaders will emerge to address key mHealth functions, such as chronic care and medication management, diet and lifestyle support and health data tracking. Apps offering limited interactivity will fall off the map, those connected to biosensors will rise, IMS Health predicts.
That being said, I am concerned about how data is being managed within these apps. With providers already facing huge interoperability issues, the last thing the industry needs is the emergence of a new set of data silos. But unless something happens to guide mHealth app developers, that may be just what happens.
To be fair, health IT leaders aren’t exactly sitting around waiting for commercial app developers to share their data. While products like HealthKit exist to integrate such data, and some institutions are giving it a try, my sense is that mHealth data management isn’t a top priority for healthcare leaders just yet.
No, the talk I’ve overheard in the hallways is more geared to supporting internally-developed apps. For example, seeing to it that a diabetes management app integrates not only a patient’s self-reported blood sugar levels, but also related labs and recommended self-care appointments is enough of a challenge on its own. What’s more, with few doctors actually “prescribing” outside apps as part of their clinical routine, providers have little reason to worry about what commercial app developers do with their data.
But eventually, as top commercial health apps become more robust, the picture will change. Healthcare organizations will have compelling reasons to integrate data from outside apps, particularly if doctors begin viewing them as useful. But if providers and outside app developers aren’t adhering to shared data standards, that may not be possible.
Now, I’m not here to suggest that commercial mHealth developers are ignoring the problem of interoperability with providers. (Besides, with 165,000 apps on the market, I couldn’t say so with any authority, anyway.) I am arguing, however, that it’s already well past time for health IT leaders to begin scoping out the mobile health marketplace, and figuring out what can be done to help with data interoperability. Some sit-downs with top app developers would definitely make sense.
What I do know — as do those reading this blog — is that creating a fresh set of health data silos would be destructive. Creating and managing useful mobile health apps, as well as the data they generate, is likely to be important to next-generation health IT leaders. And avoiding the creation of a fresh set of silos may still be possible. It’s time to tackle this issue before it’s too late.