The number of mobile health applications available to consumers has reached more than 165,000, as the industry for sensors and wearables booms.
A recent study found that one in ten apps connect to a device or sensor, providing biofeedback and physiological function data from the patient. Nearly a quarter of consumer apps are now focused on chronic disease and treatment management, while two-thirds target fitness and wellness.
During the past two years the percentage of health apps with the capability to connect to social networks increased from 26% to 34% – although just 12% of apps account for more than 90% of all consumer downloads, with nearly half of all downloads generated by just 36 apps.
Healthcare professionals are expressing greater interest and excitement in broader app use, as barriers to their mainstream adoption are removed. The study claims there is evidence that patient retention rates in clinical trials are higher when physicians prescribe apps.
There is now an effort by the industry to build evidence supporting the value of mHealth apps. The majority of research studies to date focus on app usage rather than their effectiveness in improving patient outcomes or lowering healthcare costs.
It comes as pharma companies are enlisting Fitbits and other gadgets as a way to bring drugs to market faster. For example GSK is working on a project that tracks the movements of 25 patients with the neurodegenerative condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Patients will be given with a small, rectangular light-weight monitor that sticks to their chests and measures their heart rate and some physical functions, such as going up and down steps.
The biometric data is stored in the device and downloads automatically via a Bluetooth connection when a patient gets approaches a wireless router about the size of a mobile phone. The hub then sends that data to a secure server, which GSK can access and use for research.