Categories of Mobile Health Apps

Posted on August 6, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As I’ve been covering the mobile health space for the past couple years, I think a number of categories are starting to emerge. I might be missing some, but these seem to be some of the most popular category of mobile health applications. In some cases applications can fit into multiple categories. Although, I think these mobile health categories are a good way to think about the mobile health market.

Educate and Inform – There are a lot of mobile health applications that just work to educate or inform patients. In some cases this is just through static information that can be easily searched. In other cases it is through actual communication with a person who can respond in real time, or more often in an asynchronous way.

Information Reference – In some ways this is a subcategory of the Educate and Inform category. However, I make it separate because I see this as a much higher level reference for clinicians. This isn’t usually about a doctor trying to learn about something as much as it is about a doctor looking up something they basically already knew, but didn’t remember the exact details. Epocrates has been the obvious leader in this space, but I think we’re going to see a bunch of specialty specific reference applications in the mobile health space as well.

Remind and Alert – There are a whole series of mobile health applications around reminding and alerting patients. Some of these aren’t even technically mobile applications, but instead are built on the back of SMS messages. It’s really amazing the power of a proper reminder or alert sent at the right time.

Collect Data – Many of the reminder and alert applications also help to collect data from the patient. Often the reminder or alert is a notice to have the patient input some form of data. However, there are also a whole series of other mobile health applications that are built around collecting health data. Many of these applications are tied to an external device which collects some data and then uses the smart phone to collect and transmit the data that was collected.

Communication – It should seem obvious that a “phone” would be used as a means of communication. We don’t see mHealth communication happening as much with patients yet because there’s no solid reimbursement model for the communication. However, this will change over time and a few pioneering institutions are doing it whether there’s a reimbursement model or not. One of the strongest mobile health communication opportunities is secure text message between clinical staff. In the next year or two, I expect every doctor will have a way to securely text message their office staff and other providers.

Enterprise Apps – These are the mobile health apps that provide access to other enterprise applications that are most often used from desktop computers, laptops, COWs, or other office computer. The most common of these are the mobile EHR applications. Although, no doubt there are plenty of others that will come out for labs, pharmacy, radiology, etc.

Finding Care – Quite a few mobile health applications are around trying to find a doctor, ER, or other medical establishment. Basically they’re a big database of healthcare providers, hospitals, clinics, etc and they use a variety of methods to sort and filter those organizations for the patient.

Diagnose – I see this category as the holy grail of mobile health applications. I’m not sure there are any mobile health applications today that fit this category, but they will come. In most cases I expect these applications will use many of the above categories to diagnose a patient. Whether it’s collecting data which can then be turned into a diagnosis, or whether the application can communicate data to someone who will produce a diagnosis. This is a powerful concept. In some cases this also will take the mobile health application and make it a medical device which has to be FDA cleared. The challenge is that there’s a huge barrier to entry to create a mobile health application that diagnoses. The beautiful part is that once you crack that barrier, it will be hard for your competitors to crack that barrier.

Ok, what other mobile health categories do you see? Would you divide some of the above categories even more? Are there new categories of mobile health applications that will be created as new technology arises?