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Rise of app development, device use creates a perfect storm for chronic disease prevention

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At last week's mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C., one of the things that stuck for me was the emphasis on prevention. Of course, chronic disease management is always a hot topic, and this year's conference was no different. We heard a lot about the major opportunities for mHealth applications to change the way chronic diseases are treated and those shouldn't be minimized. However, I walked away from the conference with an overwhelming sense that consumer-focused prevention was the dominant theme.

Listening to the keynote speakers and session panelists, one was briefed on a cornucopia of mHealth apps that currently are available to help people better manage their diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. In 2011, there were roughly 17,000 health-related apps for iPhones, Android-based devices, and other smart phones and tablets, according to estimates from Frost & Sullivan.

Now, it seems, we have the perfect storm of consumer-driven mHealth app development. According to the Pew Research Center, some 85 percent of all adults own a cell phone and 42 percent of them own smartphones. That's a very large potential customer base with enabling devices for this kind of technology.

A growing trend, clearly visible at the mHealth Summit, is that most mHealth apps track workouts or diets, while far fewer are dedicated to health problems such as chronic condition management. However, that doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, I find it to be a very promising trend.

Armed with their smartphones, people can make smarter food choices and exercise more on the path toward weight loss--no small fete in today's healthcare environment of epidemic levels of diabetes and obesity.

We all have to take responsibility for our own health. With 75 million U.S. adults using mobile phones for health information and tools, based on data from Manhattan Research, consumer mHealth remains in its early stages, with tremendous upside in usage still on the horizon. If these devices do nothing more than get people off of their couches, to be more active, and to think about what they are eating, then we have made great strides in potentially reducing lifestyle-related illnesses before they become chronic diseases. - Greg