In an effort to gain better insight as to what is happening in the mHealth field, I attended the fourth annual mHealth Summit at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor just outside of Washington, D.C., from December 3-5, 2012. This was the second year that I was able to attend this conference, having been one of the people at the Float Mobile Learning exhibit last year. This brief report will outline the changes that I saw from one conference to the next. While most delegates went to the sessions, I made sure to view and speak with each of the exhibitors at the conference in both years. This gave me a great perspective on what is new and what is coming next in the field of mHealth.
There were 197 exhibitors at the 2011 conference, which jumped to 256 this year. What is really interesting from a business perspective is the number of 2011 exhibitors who did not return to the 2012 version of the conference. As you can see in Figure 1 below, only 76 companies exhibited in both years. This means that 121 companies (including Float) did not come back to the 2012 conference after their experiences in 2011. This is an astonishing churn rate of 61 percent, indicating how volatile this industry still is.
This is not a big surprise, however, if you follow technology disruption theory which indicates that early stages of the development of any technology that is on the rise shows a proliferation of companies all vying for a place in the market. Only a few survive, generally when there is a “dominant design” that emerges from a particular set of offerings of a given technology.
Given that this was an American conference, it is not surprising that U.S. companies dominated. However, it is interesting to note which other countries were represented by exhibitors. This data indicates where competition will likely come from for American companies in the near future.
Canada had the second highest number of exhibitors due to its proximity with the United States. But, the most Internet-connected country in the world on a per-capita basis is Korea, which sent a consortium of companies to demonstrate their various mobile devices for health. One of the Koreans explained to me that the government is sponsoring searchable health information for the whole country that will be available on mobile phones as well as on television. Figure 2 shows the breakdown of which countries had exhibits at mHealth Summit 2012.
The exhibitors at 2011 mHealth Summit were very much about the technology, with a huge emphasis on sensors and IT infrastructure. There was also a significant number of exhibits on aid and development for developing countries. Float Mobile Learning was only one of two companies offering mobile learning. This year, I saw many more exhibits on games, patient portals, and apps for aging populations.
In 2012, many more organizations offered learning courses, training programs, and educational materials. The 256 organizations at this year’s summit showed a total of 420 different offerings at their booths. By going through each exhibitor’s information, I was able to break down the offerings at this year’s conference as shown in Figure 3.
Games and gamification of health apps are clearly on the rise, and were virtually absent in 2011. Coaching apps and services are also up, as is telehealth using tablets. Patient portals, offering lots of information on many different medical conditions are a new trend in 2012. And, while sensors and IT infrastructure was still in prominent display at the conference, the big surprise was the increase in learning courses, educational content, and training programs being offered on mobile devices. Tablets were the most prevalent devices being used, but there were plenty of smartphone apps, as well.
So, what is coming next for mHealth? While the amount of innovation is proceeding at a rapid pace, there were only a few exhibits that showed a glimpse of the future in 3 to 5 years. One startling exhibit was a hologram that could be used for telehealth and educational applications in the future. Another was a wrist device that did continuous monitoring of vital signs and did not require any straps around the chest or other forms of restrictive sensors. Certainly there will be a lot of improvements in the quality of consultations that will be available on tablets and mobile phones between doctors and patients. And finally, there was considerable talk about patient control of their own health, including one session that asked the question, “Are doctors necessary?”
I thought that the exhibits were much more worthwhile at this conference than the sessions themselves. While the keynote speeches and concurrent presentations had interesting topics, they are mostly presented using PowerPoint slides and frontal presentations. On the other hand, the exhibits had things that you could touch and feel and ask questions about. If you want to track the progress in any field, spend lots of time with exhibitors who are showing the latest developments for their industry.