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Steps in the Right Direction for mHealth


Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Bill G. Felkey, M.S.

quick look back over the last few years will reveal that we have written about mHealth-related topics like smartphones and apps several times in ComputerTalk. In general, we both love technology and enjoy learning about the latest gadgets and what they may mean for us on a daily basis. The smartphones that we carry today have more processing power than was available in our early laptop computers. While this rapid advancement is impressive on its own, we find that it offers us the opportunity and ability to do things faster and easier than before. Of course, with this rapid rate of advancement, obsolescence is a reality that we face every day. Fortunately, electronics recycling is readily available in Auburn, Ala.

If you take a trip back in time to the early 2000s, you will recall that there was some concern that the Internet could largely replace the need for some healthcare providers because patients could find the answers and products they needed online. Well, this did not materialize.

How fast is mHealth advancing? That question is somewhat difficult to answer directly, but we can use several data sources to get a better understanding. We know that 85% of Americans have cellphones, and that 31% of cellphone owners used their phones to look for health information online in 2012 (compared to 17% in 2010). Smartphone owners make up 45% of the U.S. adult population, and 52% of this group has used their phone to search for health information. So, in general, phonebased searching for health information is a growing activity among U.S. adults, especially those with smartphones.

text messages. Only 9% reported that health or medical topics were the focus of their text messaging activities. For both activities, women reported higher rates of usage than men. These data suggest that consumers are embracing mHealth apps at higher rates than text messaging.

A Few Facts You likely recognize that searching for information online does not represent the full range of activities that fall under the scope of mHealth. Use of phone-based apps and texting are two other mHealth activities that receive a lot of coverage in the press. Looking solely at smartphone users, 84% reported having downloaded an app of some kind for their phones (in April 2012). When narrowing the focus of the app to health or medical usage, 19% of smartphone users reported having downloaded a health or medical app. Turning our attention to text messaging, 80% of cell phone users have reported sending and receiving 38


There is another perspective from which to examine this area: from the app side. It is difficult to accurately measure the number of health and medical apps available for smartphones, but some experts have estimated the number to be close to 40,000. Others have estimated the number of downloads in 2012 to be in the tens of millions, and revenue estimates from health and medical apps are around $1.3 billion. Momentum is clearly push-

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