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mHealth needs services not apps

service not apps mhealthThose of you who know me will have heard me talk about the number 1 myth of mHealth – the myth that ‘it’s all about apps’. Well last week I saw an article about a new study from Deloitte that really reinforced my view. Here’s what they found:

  • 31% of smartphone users have stopped downloading apps
  • Of those that do, the rate has dropped from 2.32 to 1.82 apps downloaded per month

Could it be that we’re reaching saturation point – in our attention span and also in the storage capacity of our phones?

Surely it’s not the end of road?

Now I know some of you will still believe that it’s possible to write an app in your bedroom, put it on an app store and somehow it will go viral and you’ll be bought out by Apple. After all, aren’t there 100,000 health apps on the app stores and a prediction of a $26bn market by 2017? Well that data came from Research2guidance in their ‘mHealth App Developer Economics’ report in May 2014 – and here’s a line from that report that everyone should take seriously, ‘the major source of income for mHealth app publishers will come from services’. That’s right, it’s not apps that matter but the services you construct to tackle a health challenge – the apps are just a part of the toolkit.

What do we mean when we say ‘services not apps’? Here’s some real-life examples:

  • Welldoc® with their BlueStar™ diabetes management service – at the heart it’s an app, but it’s been fully architected and developed as a service from day one. It’s got FDA approval, it’s reimbursable, and it’s even electronically prescribable. Most importantly it’s been well thought-through with the needs of all stakeholders – for example it integrates to EMRs. Welldoc® don’t publish their pricing but it is believed to be in the order of $100/month.
  • Sleepio with their online CBT therapy for sleep disorders – for which they charge £99 for a 12 week plan.
  • Babylon Health with their remote doctor service in the UK – one of many now emerging globally – which charges £7.99 per month – and addresses the growing demand for convenient, anywhere access to qualified advice.

End of the free lunch?

I think you’re starting to get the picture. Now I’m not saying that you have to charge a lot of money to construct a valid service, but sometimes ‘you get what you pay for’. If you don’t charge for your service, how do you fund your development:

  • With ads? – irritating
  • By selling my data? – underhand
  • By sponsorship? – limited and limiting

Ultimately sustainable mHealth will be built on sustainable business models, there’s no other way.

Please let me have your thoughts or feel free to contact me.

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