Appy Days Are Here

The market for mobile health apps is booming. Be it app, sensor or hardware, developers with the right “app-titude” stand to make considerable gains in the coming years.

March, 2017

John Smith is in training for an amateur triathlon. Fitted to his upper left arm is a pulse measuring instrument, around his right wrist a step tracker. Both feed statistics and monitoring into his cell phone, which is also tracking his speed, distance, location and the gradients of his route. When he’s done, another app will tally up his nutritional requirements post-workout, while another provides the cool-down program to aid muscle recovery.

Meanwhile, his diabetic wife’s phone buzzes on the living room table. A sensor in her body has detected low blood sugar and the buzz is to remind her to go and chew on a cola bottle. Welcome to the wunderbar world of the health app.

A buoyant market

The market for health apps is one of the fastest-growing within Germany’s digital scene. An aging population increasingly concerned with its health and longevity, the rapid pace of digitization, the increased occurrence of chronic disease and heightened interest in health and fitness have all contributed to the phenomenon. Be it app, sensor or mobile health (mHealth) hardware development, or telematic tracking, there is value to be found all the way along the chain. Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) estimates that the global mHealth market revenue will reach €23bn by the end of 2017, while a number of forecasts see the German mHealth market growing to about €3bn in 2017.

Fit for purpose: wearable technology and mobile apps can now monitor our health, well-being and fitness levels and even facilitate medical consultation and diagnosis.

© Google

A key segment of mHealth is monitoring. PWC forecasts that it will generate 72 per cent of total mHealth revenue in 2017. Due to the proliferation of wearable devices, the monitoring of vital signs is expected to be even more dynamic over the next few years. According to Germany’s Federal Association for Information Technology (BITKOM), 31 per cent of the German population uses fitness trackers to monitor their vital signs and 30 per cent of smartphone users install health apps which monitor vitals, search for physicians and pharmacies, help them lose weight or improve their sleep. Meanwhile, the most popular health apps are those related to nutrition, counting calories and workout.

However, as health and apps and devices become inextricably intertwined, there has been concern from German insurance companies and legislators about the volume of sensitive data pinging around and they have recognized the need for a clear strategy to weave such devices into the healthcare system. More pertinently, the wellness lifestyle apps must be sorted from the genuine medical devices and the good from the bad. As Federal Minister of Health Hermann Gröhe puts it, “clear standards in quality and safety are now necessary for patients, app producers and medical personnel, while we need to ensure that apps with a real use for patients are quickly integrated.”

31 per cent

of Germans use fitness trackers to monitor their vital signs

As such, the burgeoning market is likely to split into two well-defined segments: the wellness apps, such as those worn by our triathlete, and the medical apps upon which health insurance companies and doctors may rely, such as that used by our diabetic. Apps that are intended not only for fitness and wellness but to enable medical findings (e.g. heart rate monitoring) can be classified as medical devices. But developers should be aware that if a stand-alone software or app is placed on the market as a “medical device,” it is subject to the same regulations as all other medical instruments, and must be verified in accordance with EU guidelines and CE-marked.

Forewarned is forearmed when entering this market. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health is feverishly working on clarifying the certification procedures for the two different categories. Data protection is a sensitive issue in Germany and robustly defended by laws, which are among the most stringent in Europe. Strategic partnerships with strong players already in the industry, such as health insurance companies, should be a critical part of the go-to-market plan.

Aging Population Trends in Germany

Share of population which is over 65 years old

Source: Right at Home International

The future is at our fingertips

But the good news is that the effort put into that preparation is unlikely to go wasted. Between 2013 and 2015, smartphone usage in 19 to 29-year-olds in Germany rose by 24 per cent. In the age group 30-49, it was 33 per cent. Overall, 62 million Germans are smartphone users (76 per cent of the population). The still-rising penetration of smart mobile devices Germany and the increasing availability of fast data networks offer good conditions for growth.

An aging but increasingly tech-savvy population is looking to the future. Monitoring apps and wearable devices are saving crucial hours on both sides of the doctor’s desk and reducing the need for frequent visits to the doctor’s surgery. Meanwhile legions of fit young Germans are increasingly relying on their devices to provide them with the data, competition and analysis that makes fitness more fun. A huge market awaits those who prepare to enter it well. But like getting fit, it’s all about your app-titude.