mHealth App Development Industry: What You Need to Know to Build a Solution In Healthcare

10 min to read
A sample of mobile health application development

The global mHealth market is expected to generate around 160.5 billion USD by 2024. mHealth apps facilitate access to health information and provide fast patient-doctor communication, while also improving treatment plans significantly and providing personalised recommendations using data from wearables (smartwatches, health monitors, pedometers and activity trackers).

Technological advancements in the mHealth app development industry create both tremendous opportunities and significant challenges. For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build a comprehensive solution that retains users. According to a Research2guidance survey, the majority of mHealth apps are downloaded fewer than five thousand times. To compare, popular games are downloaded more than eight billion times through the iOS App Store alone.

So, what do you need to know to build a successful healthcare app? Take a look at our mHealth market insights, where we point out notable technical innovations and highlight the most in-demand categories to focus on.

mHealth market on the rise: what should you know to stay ahead?

In order to give you a better understanding of key subject areas in mobile app development for healthcare, we reveal some major market triggers.


How much money has been put into digital health companies since 2011?


The digital health industry has moved from the growth stage to the mature life cycle stage. The investment climate remains unchanged from recent years, and an influx in funding amounted to $4.2B during the first half of 2019. According to a Rock Health report, almost $30B has been put into digital health since 2011.

Statistics of digital health financing from 2011 to 2019, Rock Health findings

As this data shows, industry dynamics are quite positive, so companies can take advantage of the capital-rich market.


How much is the mHealth market worth?


The digitalisation of the whole healthcare sector fostered the mHealth app development industry growth. Due to the widespread integration of mobile devices into patients’ lives, 500 million people across the globe are already using at least one health app. The mHealth market is quite responsive to this demand and, according to some estimates, will be worth around US$ 152.2 billion by 2026.

Generated revenue in the mHealth app development industry from 2014 to 2022

Recent statistics show a steady growth tendency, so the industry is not likely to stagnate any time soon.


What are the mhealth market drivers?


There are numerous different factors contributing to the rapid growth of the mobile healthcare industry. We will begin with socio-demographic characteristics; industry experts point to growing smartphone penetration , increasing prevalence of chronic diseases and a growing need to monitor health conditions remotely, especially in rural places.

Legislative initiatives is another key mHealth app development industry driver. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare system, in the US made health insurance more accessible by providing subsidies and insurance marketplaces. Thus, the government created new areas of activity and set the stage for an influx of potential customers.

We can also add the economic component that gave a boost to the situation. mHealth technology reduces administrative costs for healthcare facilities by eliminating long waiting times and paperwork.

Patient expectations are constantly evolving, as they want the highest quality experience, so healthcare providers have been striving to introduce a patient-centred approach. That's why patients and doctors are so eager to use mobile health now.


Where is the best place to build an mHealth start-up?


As thousands of new mHealth apps are released daily, it’s crucial to have a full understanding of industry competition. We are going to reveal the most lucrative regions to build the solution in order to attract investments.

Record holders for the number of products in the mHealth field are the United States (including 706 companies), the United Kingdom (25 companies) and Canada (24 companies). The list may be also expanded to include European countries as such as Germany and France.

Number of mhealth app development companies globally

The USA is leading the way due to its large population size and having the highest GDP rate.

One more growing market segment is the Asia Pacific region, as a direct result of active government initiatives like the Digital India programme, which empowers people to introduce IT-services in their routine. India and China are high potential markets due to significant R&D investments.

What countries are the most attractive to build mHealth applications

mHealth market structure

The market is booming and attracting more and more participants each year. There are 58000 mHealth app publishers globally, offering over 318000 health apps.

The global mHealth market is segmented into six categories, based on the services provided:

Wellness Service Market. Apps in this category enhance awareness of the patient's current state of health, including Diet and Nutrition, Lifestyle and Stress and Exercise and Fitness solutions. Demand is mainly concentrated within the USA and Europe, as their population is more concerned with health and self-wellness.

Prevention Services Market. These apps are designed to prescribe preventive measures for various kinds of diseases and are used by doctors. Examples include Patient Management and Monitoring Systems, Electronic Preventive Services Selector (ePSS) and medical calculators.

Treatment Services Market. These solutions are also intended for doctors to control a patient’s treatment process, e.g. Evidence-based Software Apps, Care Coordination Apps.

Diagnosis Service Market. Apps created to draw associations between symptoms and disease using AI-powered algorithms (Medical Diagnosis Apps).

Monitoring Services Market. Apps to track health conditions at all treatment stages, such as Patient Monitoring and Chronic Disease Management Solutions, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). 

Healthcare Systems Strengthening Solutions Market. This type of solution connects healthcare facilities in matters of managing patient’s data, e.g. electronic medical record (EMR) Systems (OpenMRS). 


Some of the biggest players in the mhealth arena are Medtronic, Inc. (U.S.), Apple, Inc. (U.S.)., Sanofi (France), Cisco, Inc. (U.S.), but there are many others. In addition, the industry is replete with start-ups that are constantly growing in number.

To gain a competitive edge, industry leaders embark on a mergers and acquisitions course to expand their market share or acquire important technologies. For example, Apple teamed up with Aetna mhealth app development company to launch the Attain app that tracks user behaviour.

Let’s take a look at some mHealth start-ups that have attracted public attention lately:

mHealth unicorn. The Calm app is a new entry in the meditation, sleep and relaxation app development industry. It raised $88M in a Series B funding round by TPG Growth, Creative Artists Agency, Insight Venture Partners and Sound Ventures. Its current valuation is $1B.

Creators endowed the app with a breathing coach feature, sleep programmes, a full library of meditations, stories, music and other exclusive services that were rated by users. Thus, the company reports more than 40M downloads of the product.

Latest technologies. Innovative solution FDNA launched as biotech start-up which determines a patient’s condition by using artificial intelligence (AI). The app analyses a patient’s face to produce a list of potential syndromes, as well as provide better disease management and treatments.

The solution has already got popular, as it is used across 2000 different clinical sites in 130 countries.

Number of active users. Customer turnover is very high in the mHealth industry, however, both the First Aid and Strava apps were able to reach 1M downloads. They were the first to enter the emerging industry.


Looming Market Heterogeneity


The growth rate of mHealth app publishers exceeds the annual download growth rate, according to a Research2Guidance survey. In fact, supply is not justified by demand - one-third of applications go unnoticed by consumers.

Correlation between the number of mHealth apps downloads and mHealth app publishers

Competition in the industry is really fierce. What is the best way to survive in a highly concentrated sphere? Let's take a closer look at the most promising directions.

mHealth solutions: available categories

The mobile health market is huge, so it includes a lot of prospects for both established businesses and start-ups alike. We are going to investigate some common product categories to reveal the most lucrative niches. They are mainly divided into two groups: software tools for patients and for clinical staff.

Solutions for clinical staff aim to increase hospital efficiency and performance at all treatment stages, so they fall into the following categories:

  • digital administration and records;
  • online information resources and online communities;
  • mobile health and telehealth;
  • population health management;
  • medical education and teaching.

As for the patients, they are, more than ever, ready to obtain personalised care services and improve their own health outcomes. This sphere is filled with feasible solutions including:

  • preventative testing;
  • genomics and personalised care;
  • mobile fitness and wellness applications;
  • digital-enabled engagement;
  • prescription filling and compliance;
  • online information and communities.

The industry giants tend to lean towards app development for patients, particularly the behavioural software development category. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, new product development for healthcare settings is always a risky business, primarily from the economic side. It must work from the start, without an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) - you cannot test the product on potential users or predict prospective demand. So, you won't have an escape route if the idea fails. Also, healthcare is a heavily regulated industry, complete with complex legislative requirements, which is exacerbated in the field of solutions for physicians.


What mobile health app categories for patients are the most in-demand?


When focusing on solutions for patients, we have identified the current most popular directions. Physicians and patients are looking forward to solutions that are aimed at overcoming diabetes, obesity and depression symptoms.

Many concerns seemed to be borne by the impending global diabetes epidemic. Nearly 425 million people across the globe suffer from diabetes (Digital Diabetes Care Market 2018-2022: Ready To Take Off report) and they are considered the most vulnerable category of patients.

The most in-demand categories in the mHealth app development industry

Taking sight of possible mHealth features

Using mobile health app advances, and utilising wearable technology, could facilitate greatly improved treatment adherence, as well as relieve symptoms of chronic diseases. In fact, technology encourages personal responsibility for health while improving the patient-doctor communication process. What features does each kind of app have?

Apps for diabetes management. Notably, 16% of apps developed for a specific disease are aimed at managing diabetes. mHealth market solutions provide a wide range of opportunities to better self-control disease symptoms using data from medical devices such as wearable blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors or fitness trackers. Some basic features include:

  • medication management to control the use of medicines in the proper way (e.g. insulin dosage);
  • self-management of blood glucose to keep track of glucose levels and prevent a dangerous state of health;
  • physical activity to fulfil exercise programmes prescribed by a doctor;
  • diet and nutrition feature to allow for the identification of health patterns (normal blood sugar level) and build specific diet plans;
  • weight management to track weight, body mass index and reach health goals.

A representative example is the Omada Health app, which offers digitised management of chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes. The concept is largely focussed on changing patient’s behaviour, encouraging real-time support within the community, and creating personalised care practices. Also, the app provides an opportunity to integrate glucometers and blood pressure cuffs for more precise care management.

Example of Omada Health app to manage chronic conditions caused by diabetes

Apps for weight loss management. The obesity problem has reached 600 million worldwide cases. One overwhelming factor is improper dietary knowledge and behaviour. Thus, development forces are aimed at changing patients’ lifestyles with features such as: 

  • diet monitoring tools which help patients to strictly adhere to a nutrition plan, according to their nutritional preferences and doctor's recommendations;
  • training programmes with personalised video courses and physical exercises;
  • food intake trackers to manage food consumption counting the number of calories, measure the size of portions and calculate nutrient composition of meals (amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars);
  • personal digital assistants help assign appointments and take notes.

The above-mentioned features are implemented in the Lose it! app, one of the most successful weight loss apps in the App Store. It allows users to create meal plans and set clear weight goals. The app uses data analysis to generate exercise and nutrition recommendations. 

Example of Lose it! app to monitor weight and follow nutrition recommendations

Apps for depression management. mHealth technologies are very promising self-management tool for depression. Numerous studies prove that the use of these practices reduces patients’ depressive symptoms significantly. Such apps includes features such as: 

  • mental health assessment, providing meaningful programmes (tests) to analyse emotional condition;
  • sleep trackers to monitor periods of sleep disturbances and give recommendations to sleep better (vital indicator in mental illnesses);
  • mindfulness training to support a more positive view on life or problems, using different games, activities etc;
  • mood monitoring features to record positive and negative habits in order to investigate the root of problems and determine preventive measures.

The TalkSpace app is an example of meaningful therapy at a single click away. It provides a private “room” to communicate with a doctor in a safe environment.

Example of TalkSpace app to get a mental therapy

In order to build a popular mHealth app solution for patients, forces should be focused on changing the users’ behaviour while helping them to stay on top of health. The app concept should include 3 components: Motivation - establish achievable goals and rewards, Ability - the tool to accomplish task and Trigger - sparks that stimulate the user (e.g. reminders to take a pill). In this case, the mHealth app could bring value to users, which will, in turn, contribute to active download rates. 

What challenges do industry players face?

While reviewing the bright prospects on the mHealth horizon, it’s also necessary to uncover the barriers that exist in the industry. Not a lot, but they could complicate the process of market entry if don’t take them to account.

The biggest snag faced by both start-ups and established businesses is governmental regulatory changes, which also implies privacy concerns and compliance with laws. For instance, the leading public-health institution, National Health Service (NHS), in the UK imposes stringent rules and regulations on mHealth app for both testing and publishing.

There are a number of rules listed in healthcare pacts in all countries, many of which are updated or edited daily. In order to avoid losing sight of the latest updates, we recommend following HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations intended for the USA, GDPR (The General Data Protection Regulation) for EU countries, The Data Protection Act for the UK and PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) for the Canadian market. Following these rules avoids unpleasant consequences, including costly fines.

Another barrier is the presence of a large number of worldwide tech giants, or so-called “monopolies”, like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and others, that are filling the market with diverse solutions. Their products inspire customer confidence. A possible way out is to offer relevant features, develop a clever go-to-market strategy and satisfy the needs of different stakeholders.

Looking deeper into other challenges, it can be found that app publishers are faced also with low health awareness and literacy among their potential users, as well as low patient engagement, etc. Nevertheless, these obstacles can be overcome with well-thought app design.

Innovation that is shaping the mHealth app development industry

The rapid growth of the industry is mainly provoked by new technologies that have brought the quality of care to a whole new level. While the first app generation had basic functionality, current solutions amaze us with tremendous opportunities to improve the lives patients (e.g. artificial heart valves) and much more.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has several applications in the mHealth app development industry, in terms of empowering healthier patient behaviour, detecting diseases at early stages, reducing errors, supporting clinical decision-making, streamlining the drug discovery process and much more. Experts predict market growth at $6.6 billion by 2021. In fact, Google Inc. has already adopted it and presented DeepMind’s Streams app – an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors that helps manage patients.

DeepMind’s Streams app - mHealth app developed using AI technology

Why is the future of mHealth technology all about AI? The healthcare process requires precise control over health innovations and the latest discoveries to align them with a particular patient case. AI uses evidence-based medicine, i.e. absorbs data from various medical research projects or clinical trials, analyses the patient’s medical history (e.g. genetic predisposition) to form the most relevant treatment path and provide a prognosis. Using this technology along with evidence-based practice will promote better decision-making and help create real value for patients.

Conclusion

If you are at the beginning stages of mobile app development for healthcare and don’t know where or how to start, our basic research should put you on the right track. By choosing the right app category, getting to know your potential customers, exploiting a proven technology stack and following the latest tech trends, you’ll be able to build a successful mHealth app from scratch.

Our bold prediction is that the mHealth app development industry is approaching a powerful breakthrough with the assistance of innovative technologies like AI. Now is your chance to assert yourself loudly with a fresh solution!