A Growing Market

Global revenue for mobile healthcare applications in 2012

According to Ralf-Gordon Jahns and Grace Gair of Research to Guidance, in the Mobile Health Market Report 2011-2016 report, 2011 already showed significant growth for the mHealth app market, and, in 2012 the market size will nearly double, reaching US$ 1.3 billion in 2012 – up from US$ 718 million in 2011. In 2012 the number of mHealth application users – mobile users who downloaded a smartphone mHealth application at least once – will reach 247 million. Compared to the 124 million users who downloaded mHealth smarthphone applications in 2011, this is a near doubling. However, they warn:

Despite this substantial growth, the mHealth market is still in an embryonic state – especially in comparison to the US$ 6 trillion of the overall global healthcare market. Several factors (esp. smartphone penetration), will continue, however, to drive mHealth market growth over the next couple of years.

Mobile healthcare market drivers: The increase of revenue stems from downloads, in-app advertisements, mHealth services, direct transactions and sensor sales.

Dependent on Technical Developments: As a number of big healthcare companies published mHealth apps in 2011 that go far beyond a simple allergy tracker or pill reminder (e.g. Sanofi Aventis’ sensor-based iBGStar Diabetis monitoring app) sensors are a growing part of the landscape. As the technical aspects of the healthcare landscape are changing rapidly, healthcare data, apps and usage are growing. But much of it is dependent on sensors attached to smartphones.

Is It Worth the Investment? Adult Usage Still Low

Pew Internet research suggests that major investment may be premature:

  • 50% of adult cell phone owners have apps on their phones
  • But just 46% of downloaders have paid for an app.
  • Only 68% reported actually using them.
  • 17% of cell phone owners, or 15% of adults, have used their phone to look up health or medical information.

Overall, this means that 35% of U.S. adults had apps on their phone, but only 24% of adults actually used them.

Health Apps At the Bottom of the List

While there are various types type of health apps available, including apps that people use to track their fitness or help diagnose a condition, Pew research indicated that health apps were at the bottom of the list of the type of apps adults download.

According to Richard of DTC Marketing, who has research of his own:

I have led extensive research with adults on health apps (apps that help people manage certain health conditions not diagnostic or fitness apps) and found that in most cases people do not want to be reminded they have health problems and they just don’t have the time to enter data and learn new apps unless the app provides “significant value” to users.

We also found that of the people who did download health apps to help them manage their health that over half deleted the app after 60 days and one quarter never used the app.

What Healthcare Information Do Mobile Phone Users Seek?

The most commonly-researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals. See: summary charts of health topics.

The typical search for health information is on behalf of someone else.

Default Use: “I don’t know, but I can try to find out”

The default setting for people with health questions is to find out things they don’t know:

  • 34% of internet users, or 25% of U.S. adults, have read someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog.
  • 24% of internet users, or 18% of adults, have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments.
  • 18% of internet users, or 13% of adults, have gone online to find others who might have health concerns similar to theirs. People living with chronic and rare conditions are significantly more likely to do this. See: Peer-to-peer Healthcare.

Leading Edge Use: “I know, and I want to share my knowledge”

The leading edge of health care is active tracking and sharing:

  • 27% of internet users, or 20% of adults, have tracked their weight, diet, exercise routine or some other health indicators or symptoms online.
  • 6% of internet users, or 4% of adults, have posted comments, questions or information about health or medical issues on a website of any kind, such as a health site or news site that allows comments and discussion.
  • 4% of internet users, or 3% of adults, have posted their experiences with a particular drug or medical treatment.


Richard concludes:

It’s still about driving brand objectives and connecting the money invested in developing an app to ROI is hard to do at a time when budets are being cut. Does this mean that pharma marketers should ignore mobile ?  No it just means that if you’re going to do it do it right starting with a strategy that asks “what value can provide our users that balances brand objectives?”

Are mobile health apps really worth the investment? Maybe not yet. That is, unless you can crack the code on value. The company that can deliver and promote real value may have a key differentiator.
Snap! principle of Mobile Health app development:

Ignore the hype from agencies who want to develop health apps unless you can do extensive usability testing and research to find out what users actually value. 

More Mobile Health Reports:

– Mobile Health Applications Landscape: Best Practice Examples (2011 – 2016)

– mHealth App Market Trends and Figures 2011-2016