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Money is Mobile Health’s Biggest Obstacle

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, September 14, 2010

For $29.99 you can buy a smartphone app that translates a baby's cries. For $3.99 you can buy an app that claims to stimulate hair growth by issuing inaudible frequencies that increase blood circulation in the scalp. And for 99 cents you can flick a finger and send a cow bouncing around your phone's screen.

So what would patients pay for a mobile app to monitor their health? One recent study suggests the answer lies somewhere between the cost of an implausible baby decoder and that of a questionable hair restoration technique. Look at the numbers a little more closely, however, and the price drops to less than a game of cow-tipping.

Roughly half of patients surveyed said they would buy mobile technology for their health. Of those, 20% said they would use it to monitor fitness or wellbeing, 18% want their doctors to monitor their health conditions, and 11% would like to monitor an existing condition, according to a recent survey report by PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute.

Although 40% of respondents said they were willing to pay for a monthly mobile phone service or device that could send information to their doctor, they don't want to pay more than $10 a month for it. And actually they don't even want to pay that: Most patients expect their insurance would cover the cost, according to the report. 

But with little or no evidence that mobile health improves quality and reduce costs, insurers aren't opening their wallets.

Other industries have figured out ways to get paid for electronic transactions and services—music downloads or stupid smartphone applications, for example. But healthcare lags in figuring out who pays—and how much.

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