The number of mobile health applications available to consumers now surpasses 165,000, as developers incorporate innovative data collection features linked to sensors and wearables, according to a new report released by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. While most available apps focus on overall wellness, healthcare systems and professionals are expressing greater interest and excitement in broader app use as barriers to mainstream adoption of mHealth are removed—especially in the area of chronic disease management.
The IMS Institute study found that one in 10 apps now has the capability to connect to a device or sensor, providing biofeedback and physiological function data from the patient and greatly extending the accuracy and convenience of data collection. Nearly a quarter of consumer apps now are focused on disease and treatment management, while two-thirds target fitness and wellness. The number and variety of mHealth apps present an overwhelming set of options for consumers, resulting in 40% of apps having fewer than 5,000 downloads.
The study, “Patient Adoption of mHealth: Use, Evidence and Remaining Barriers to Mainstream Acceptance,” extends the IMS Institute’s examination of consumer-focused mobile apps in the health system conducted in 2013. Researchers drew on IMS Health’s proprietary AppScript Score database and analysis of 26,864 apps available in the U.S. Apple iTunes and Android app stores—a representative sample of the most widely used mHealth apps by consumers.
“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,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “Healthcare providers are actively addressing the remaining barriers. These include developing and adopting trusted platforms for ongoing apps curation and evaluation, creating practical reimbursement models and ensuring true interoperability within and across healthcare systems.”
In addition to improved user data collection capability, during the past two years the percentage of mHealth apps with the capability to connect to social networks increased from 26% to 34%, underscoring the importance of social networking in consumer engagement.
The total number of available mHealth apps is growing rapidly, including a 106% increase in the number of health-related Apple iOS apps since 2013. The study found that just 12% of mHealth apps account for more than 90% of all consumer downloads, with nearly half of all downloads generated by just 36 apps.
Momentum is building for observational studies and randomized clinical trials that will yield evidence to support the value of apps, specifically in the areas of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental health. The number of clinical trials using mobile apps has more than doubled in the past two years, rising from 135 to 300.