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Health-related smartphone apps -- not ready for prime time

Our smartphones, ourselves – are they useful for managing our own health? In 2009, Eric Topol, the wireless health medical prognosticator, noted that 'we would soon use our smart phones to monitor our chronic conditions.'  Well, maybe – it all depends on what he meant by 'soon.' App developers are obviously struggling to identify a) an app that is useful and b) who the cohort is that would use it. Should you count recording weight, keeping food logs and tracking exercise as 'monitoring' a chronic condition?  It might be more useful to put a smartphone in your pocket (assuming it fits) than to get a grip on another wearable but easily-lost small device. Take a look at the wearable band market and non-usage by the 55+.   Note the easily-lost Fitbit (my sister has lost 3, I have long lost 2) in this Verizon Boomer Voice blog.  

Smartphones are popular with baby boomers – but for what? As of the last Pew survey, 49% of baby boomers have smartphones.   But across all smart phone users, what are they doing with them? Accessing the Internet, I suppose, could count as 'managing one’s health.' But smartphones could revolutionize healthcare – couldn't they? 'Revolutionize' seems like a strong word – and a bit of tech skepticism is in order. So-called 'health apps' are downloaded, a lot – and the FDA is understandably nervous.  But is counting steps with a pedometer app, looking up the calories in a restaurant meal, or checking disease symptoms truly health management? I could do those without a smartphone. Are we really fulfilling Eric Topol’s five-year-old vision -- or are we moving up the curve of media hype and are not yet at the peak?  

For chronic disease management, progress – but a ways to go.  Consider three common chronic conditions of baby boomers – diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Baby boomers have more of all of these than the previous generation.  It seems like the all-in-one smartphone app and device integration for managing diabetes would be first to become mainstream.  Seems like a slow-go there – considering the Sanofi scenario – the difficulty of getting an FDA-approved device.   

Okay, onto blood pressure and cholesterol management.  Well, a search reveals BP Companion (iPhone), BP Watch (Android) – which could help older boomers, half of whom have high blood pressure, according to the CDC.  And heart disease is identified as a cause of more than a quarter of all deaths.  Although many boomers with high blood pressure may be recording their readings, are they doing so on a smartphone? Predictions, maybe, but not a lot of good data on that yet – consider me doubtful.  It seems just as dubious with cholesterol readings, unless we’re talking about logging into an EHR record (which is kinda small unless you have a large phone) and looking at lab test results.



The average age of the non medical professionals using our smartphone ECG (I.e., patients) is 57 yo with about 40% of Medicare age. The most prevalent heart rhythm abnormality for which our device is an appropriate long-term monitor is Atrial Fibrillation where the incidence increases dramatically with age over 60. We have thousands of 55+ smartphone ECG users despite the Pew data saying only 18% over 60 have a smartphone. I expect that number to rise dramatically over the next few years. The 50-60 year olds will not give up smartphones when they are the 70-80 year olds and within. 5 years, as our investor Qualcomm says, there will be no dumb phones. The situation is not as dire as you say but is in the early stages of transition.

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