Online Pillar 1: #Health

When my iPhone upgraded to iOS8, and up popped a new screen icon called “Health”, was there any further proof needed of the importance of this market to Apple’s app store?

Last week, I launched a series of blogs on the Three Pillars of the Online Economy. This week, I take a look at the Health sector.

There are 10,000’s of health and fitness apps available – digital magazines, monitoring apps, relaxation tools, brain games, diet planners, exercise diaries….

It’s probably the fastest growing category for apps (outside games and social media), so no wonder Apple sees value in integration, as well as making it easier for developers to bring new apps to market.

The health sector is a natural leader in innovation – from pharmaceutical research, to e-health management. But the health industry is not so vertically integrated that it is invulnerable to market disruption – neither in its supply chain, nor in its traditional business models.

For a start, despite our lifelong need for health services, as consumers we do not rely on a single provider. We may have continuous or recurring relationships with a specific doctor, clinic, hospital or health insurer – but by and large, barriers to switching are low, and in fact we often need to change our providers at various stages of our lives.

The discontinuity of our health provider relationships, and the fragmented service delivery are key reasons for the development of digital health record management systems. Notwithstanding privacy issues, the ability to consolidate our individual health records in a single online profile makes enormous sense:

  • continuity of patient information
  • remote and/or shared access to individual records
  • trend analysis across aggregated data
  • strategic planning for service design and delivery
  • public health monitoring and awareness

An area where the health sector is potentially vulnerable is circumvention of the stringent regulations that normally create a barrier to market entry. None of the health and fitness apps I have seen in the iTunes Store carry any sort of health warning or regulatory notice, and most of them have a 4+ rating. OK, so these apps don’t actually administer drugs or direct treatment, but pharmaceuticals and other therapeutic goods usually face significant regulatory hurdles before they can be released to the general public. So, maybe regulators need to take a look at this issue to ensure consumers are better informed before they cause themselves harm.

The increase in wearable devices linked to smart phones and mobile networks offers huge benefits for the medical industry – from web-based diagnostic tools to remote-controlled administration of treatment; from early warning monitors for stroke victims, to better delivery of pharmaceutical information to patients. As we know, prevention is better than cure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if health insurers start to offer discounts to older customers who use a wearable device linked to a monitoring service for things like heart rate, body temperature, glucose levels or dehydration. While some people may balk at this “Big Brother” intervention (well, Nanny State interference), the benefits would undoubtedly accrue to everyone via cheaper medical insurance, more targeted health resources and streamlined service delivery.

In recent months I have come across numerous local startups in Melbourne within the health sector – from improved co-ordination of patient information between hospital staff, to matching carer skills to customer needs; from an epilepsy monitoring tool to remote-controlled prosthetics. This just proves the point that innovation in the industry is both leveraging off and contributing to developments in the wider online economy.

Next week: Online Pillar 2: #Finance

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