Global survey results: 220 million diabetes patients are the main target for mHealth app developers in the next 5 years

This article continues the discussion on the impact of the smartphone application market in the field of the mobile health industry and its effects on the involved stakeholders: pharma, health insurances, government agencies and mHealth app developers.

The majority of today’s mHealth smartphone applications fall into the category of general health tracking and fitness tools. Generally these apps have a low to medium sophistication level in terms of range of functionality, usage of sensors, integration of medical services and linkage to existing medical databases. The main target group of those applications are health conscious people who want to track their health for example: calorie consumption, weight, blood pressure, BMI and exercise progress.

mHealth apps not only for health & fitness but for the chronically ill too
Chronically ill people have not yet been the focus of today’s app developers. This will change with the entrance of traditional health industry players into the mHealth app market. With the potential for sophisticated monitoring, compliance, time-management and a host of other applications to improve healthcare delivery to chronically ill patients, mHealth solutions promise to bring significant advances in the management of chronic diseases. In addition the target group size is very impressive. According to the OECD and WHO there are more than 2 billion patients with chronic diseases worldwide.

Chronic disease is a major cost-driver in developed countries. In the US, for example, the cost of treating chronic disease constitutes is 83% of total Medicaid and 96% of the total Medicare expenditure (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In some countries healthcare expenditure on a person with one chronic condition is double that of expenditure on someone without a chronic condition.

From the data above, we can see why established healthcare players are bringing out first pilot apps.

The market potential for mHealth apps targeting chronically ill people
The graph above illustrates market potential for mobile applications, specific for chronic diseases and the size of the overall addressable market for patients with chronic diseases today.

Amongst chronic diseases diabetes is ranked highest in terms of business potential for mHealth applications according to a global survey on mHealth.

There is supporting evidence that diabetes applications will become as popular as envisaged by the developers:

1. Target Group Size: According to OECD and WHO there are 220 million patients growing by more than 5% every year. This means that diabetic patients represent one of the biggest groups amongst people with a chronic condition.

2. Huge Costs Saving Potential: The direct costs per diabetic patient in Western countries like Germany, not including the cost of long-term care (nursing insurance), are between 4,000 and 5,000 EUR per year (CoDiM study). The indirect costs, which include loss of productivity and early retirement, amounted to more than 5,000 EUR per patient per year. One can envision lots of business cases built around reducing these costs for example limiting the number of patients visiting physicians, better patient outcome because of more accurate doses of insulin, improved therapy decisions, better compliancy to a therapy plan and so on.

3. A Small Inconsistency of Diabetes Patients and Smartphone Users by Age: The average age of a smartphone user is around 35-45 years. Where as diabetes patients tend to be around 10 years older on average. The amount of overlap in comparison to a market such as health and fitness groups will have considerably less diabetic patients owning and using these apps.

4. Geographical Match: Diabetes is a disease that has started to spread into developing countries but the majority of diabetes patients are living in industrialized countries. Those countries also show the highest penetration of smartphones. With smartphone applications being the best platform for mHealth/diabetes applications in industrialized countries that looks like a good match.

5. Excellent Use Case Potential: Diabetes applications provide the flexibility to manage patients diabetes whenever and wherever. They can help to keep track of blood glucose level, carb intake and insulin dose etc. To manage patients diabetes in “real time” and “on-the-go” situations, shared information within the healthcare industry and especially between medical professionals whilst “on-the-go” is essential. This technology would help to make better decisions alongside the patient, further aiding personal management of a chronic illness. People will benefit from these technological progresses.

6. First Proof of Concept: There are a few apps out there which provide the kind of user experience, sensor connectivity, backend integration with health care databases and access to health care professionals which are needed to deliver the promised benefits. Technically this works but the systems are still developing.

What is your opinion on the potential of smartphone applications to support the therapy of chronically ill patients especially for diabetes?

For a more detailed analyses on the mHealth market please have a look at our Mobile Health Market Report 2010-2015.

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MHEALTH REPORT: The “Global Mobile Health Market Report 2013-2017 is a business guide for traditional healthcare companies as well as for mobile operators who want to successfully engage into the new mHealth market.  Country mHealth market reports are available forUSA, Germany, Brazil, Japan and UK. See  report preview.