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mHealth: Straddling the line between vision and reality

Nurse LaptopAs you’ve probably heard many times before, mobile health is expected to be one of the major transformative technologies in healthcare. From large academic institutions to global companies to aggressive startups, it seems everybody is either developing, marketing, or—at the very least—strongly considering an mHealth solution.

At 2012’s mHealth Summit, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, noted that about 10% of exhibitors at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show had a healthcare focus. In the 2014 show, which just wrapped up, digital health commanded a whopping 40% share.

The potential for mHealth solutions to dominate the marketplace is undeniably huge. But amid this giddy optimism, a backlash is emerging. Does the hope – alone the reality – live up to the hype? Debra Bouchegnies recently took part in the weekly #HITsm chat on behalf of Kitterman Marketing, with some Tweeters bringing issues to light:

  • Digital virtual systems depend on high tech- why do we have dinosaur WiFi?
  • #mHealth progress will be stalled by regulatory issues. Law hasn't caught up to tech. Privacy advocates not always well-informed.
  • The #mhealth industry even seems confused about who the driver is going to be patient, provider, payer?
  • We need regs that promote #innovation while maintaining safety 
  • Certainly a rush to $$ rather than actual value to pts/providers. Over time the real value creators will survive. 

Unlike other industries in the mobile space, healthcare has two unique and heavy burdens: complex legacy infrastructure and a host of governmental regulations. We’ve already seen how data leaks have damaged the reputations of brands like Target, whose digital meltdown is playing out in the headlines as we write this. How disastrous could a similar leak be to a healthcare institution or company that deals in sensitive medical data?

Health IT power players and thought leaders, like Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, are talking about the need for a more robust technological infrastructure and better partnerships between regulators and IT developers as a way to deliver on the bright and shiny promise of true mobile health.

It’s not an easy task, and there will certainly be delays and hiccups in the process. However, this does not seem to dissuade marketers. CES 2014 has shown the world that both consumers and caregivers alike are clamoring for mHealth solutions, even if they’re barely out of prototype stage. The public, apparently, is willing to wait—but they’re just as receptive to marketing messages from companies in the early stages of product development, provided that the promise is strong and there exists a plan to work out the kinks.

Hype and hope have a place in the mobile marketer’s toolbox, and it seems that aggressive premarketing may be one of the most successful strategies of all.

Did you attend CES or the mHealth Summit? What did you think of the products you saw? Do you see any that you think will live up to the buzz they’re creating? And how important is buzz when it comes to products that are not quite ready to launch? Sound off in the comments section below.

czphoto1Caroline Zelonka is a guest blogger for Kitterman Marketing Group. She is the former senior writer for White Space Healthcare Marketing and Publicis Dialog Healthcare Marketing Practice and has worked with Abbott, Baxter, Edifecs, LifeScan, Microsoft HealthVault, Ventus Medical, El Camino Hospital, Eisenhower Medical Center, and Swedish Medical Center.