IMS report heralds the trough of disillusionment for mobile health apps

By Neil Versel
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Neil_Versel_LargeWe have officially hit the trough of disillusionment on the Gartner Hype Cycle and are slowly beginning the climb up the slope of enlightenment.

The nadir, in my view, may have been last week's report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The IMS analysis confirmed what many of us already suspected, that there are far too many mobile health apps on the market right now, since the majority seem to be of limited usefulness or only tenuously related to health and healthcare.

As MobiHealthNews reported, IMS research found that perhaps 16,275 of the 43,689 supposedly healthcare-related apps in Apple's U.S. iTunes store had "genuine" health content for patients. In Google Play, half of the health apps listed had been downloaded fewer than 500 times each, and five apps accounted for 15 percent of all downloads of Android health apps.

IMS said that about two-thirds of the 16,275 consumer-facing iOS health apps are able to provide and display useful health information, and just half of those 10,840 apps offer any kind of user instructions. I suppose people are supposed to guess?

IMS found just 159 iOS apps that link to sensors, and most of those are for fitness or weight measurement. Fewer than 50 are suitable for "actual condition management," the report said, confirming what I've believed for a long time, that there are far too many fitness apps on the market masquerading as health tools.

The title of the IMS report is telling: "Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare: From Novelty to Mainstream." It has seemed for a long time that the bulk of apps being developed are little more than novelties, or as others have argued, "me-too" products. (You should see some of the pitches I get describing copycat apps as "revolutionary" or "breakthrough.")

The methodology is interesting, too. IMS specifically excluded some 7,500 apps intended for healthcare professionals rather than consumers, as if giving providers tools to do their jobs a little better is a bad thing. This decision is more curious when you consider that IMS commented on apps that connect to sensors and other medical devices.

Remember when Dr. Eric Topol dropped a stethoscope in the trash during a presentation to make the point that there is better technology available to physicians than the nearly 200-year-old device doctors still carry to listen to patients' heartbeats? Medical professionals want and need low-cost breakthroughs to help make them more efficient and deliver safer care. Just check out some of the supportive responses to Dr. Naomi Fried's call for more hospital-facing mobile apps.

Still, I see the IMS report as a massive wake-up call to app developers. Let the market correction begin.

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