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Mobile health app use poses market opportunity for carriers

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More than 40 million smartphone users tap at least one fitness or wellness app regularly, according to a new Parks Associates report. What's more, according to the report, connected mHealth devices represented 4 percent of U.S. machine-to-machine connections last year with the figure expected to double by 2019, and one in four heads of broadband-using households currently are using an app to track fitness or calories.

Increasing mHealth technology adoption may provide a huge market opportunity for mobile carriers who align connected health businesses with connected living strategies, explains Jennifer Kent, Parks Associates' director, research quality and innovation. But there are more than a few obstacles, she tells FierceMobileHealthcare.

"Success in the wellness and fitness space requires a particular relationship with consumers--that is, consumers must see the carrier brand as one that enables quality experiences," Kent tells FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview.

Kent says carriers may have better opportunities focusing on providing services, such as those for cloud storage and telemedicine, to care providers, and driving remote monitoring and diagnostic services to market through M2M businesses.

"AT&T and Verizon, in particular, are positioning their companies as 'connected living' providers, providing services such as broadband, pay-TV, mobile, connected car, and connected home services," Kent says. "Connected health services could represent an extension of that strategy to the health and wellness space."

Yet, it clearly isn't just up to carriers to spur mHealth ahead. The Parks Associates data comes on the heels of an Accenture survey revealing app makers need to improve the consumer experience and assure data security and privacy. Consumer trust is paramount to mHealth tech success, says Yulun Wang, Ph.D., president-elect of the American Telemedicine Association. He says his biggest fear is organizations will jump into the healthcare space with solution offerings that are not well thought through and which can put patients' lives and privacy in danger.

Parks Associates estimates that there were 243 million smartphone users by the end of 2014; of that 243 million, the 24.8 percent using a fitness app actually represented about 60 million consumers. The research firm trimmed the figure to 40 million, given inconsistent app usage and a lack of trust by consumers. 

"The number and varying level of quality of health apps in the app stores confuses consumers and makes it difficult for quality apps to gain users' trust," Kent says. "There is a clear need for trusted sources to provide curate health apps or provide quality reviews for consumers."

The Parks Associates data reveals that when doctors personally recommend a smartphone or app, usage behavior changes dramatically.

"We found that 86 percent of U.S. consumers whose doctor recommended a health app actually used the app, and 75 percent reported that the app improved their health," Kent says. "Those whose doctors followed-up about their use of the health apps used their apps more frequently and were even more likely to report that it helped improve their health."

For more information:
- read the report
- read the announcement

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