Monday, January 24, 2011

mHealth Perspective: Mobile Doesn’t Just Market

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By Brian Dolan, Editor,

Last year the market for marketing campaigns that leveraged short codes, text messaging, or featured ad spots in mobile applications totaled nearly $800 million in the US, according to BIA/Kelsey. That opportunity is growing everyday: As of last July, the mobile industry surpassed 5 billion users worldwide. Now more people have access to a mobile phone than have access to running water. No technology is more accessible.

No technology is better suited for delivering health information.

Without a doubt the mobile channel represents a massive opportunity for pharma companies.

Physicians in the US have adopted smartphones in record numbers: More than 72 percent of physicians in this country are smartphone users. Tablet devices are also catching on: More than 20 percent of US physicians already have iPads.

More than 30 percent of mobile users in the US have smartphones -- more than 82 million are mobile Web users.

Advertising on mobile optimized websites, via SMS shortcodes or within mobile apps is already a very real channel for marketers.

Pharma’s mobile opportunity, however, is not limited to marketing. Mobiles and wireless technology are also helping pharma companies make strides in driving medication adherence among patient populations and providing better data collection in clinical trial studies.

Four pharma companies have already committed to distribute their medications through Vitality’s medication adherence device: GlowCaps. Vitality designed GlowCaps to fit the standard pill container as a lid. The pill box tops use short-range wireless technology to monitor when a pillbox is open and when it isn’t. If a dose is missed the device sounds an alarm, flashes lights, texts or calls the user or alerts a caregiver. It uses a close-range wireless signal to connect to a gateway hub, which looks like and functions as a nightlight but includes the guts of a mobile phone that runs on AT&T’s network.

The lids also have a button inside that enables the user to reorder their medication when it runs out – the button causes their own mobile phone to dial the pharmacy.

While GlowCaps have demonstrated improved adherence rates among patients in pilot studies, for some tracking when a patient opens a pill bottle does not go far enough.

Novartis might agree.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company has made a significant investment in intelligent medicine company Proteus Biomedical and has some exclusive licenses on the company’s smart pill technology.

Proteus’ smart pill technology is powered by an electric charge generated by the patient’s stomach acid. The charge is detected through the patient’s body by a sensing patch on the patient’s skin. The patch records the time and date that the pill is digested and also measures some vitals like heart rate, activity and respiratory patterns. The information is then sent to the patient’s mobile phone and onto the internet for caregivers to review and analyze.

A year ago Novartis announced that it would invest $24 million in Proteus Biomedical as part of an exclusive worldwide agreement to license Proteus’ microchipped pills for organ transplant medication.

Other connected devices that automatically and passively collect data are already on the market or in the FDA’s regulatory pipeline. Cellular wireless-enabled blood glucose meters, ECG peripherals for smartphones, Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure monitors, WiFi-enabled weight scales, wireless sensors that detect fluid accumulation in organs, sensors that purport to accurately estimate caloric intake and more.

Pharma companies are likely to be some of the earliest adopters of this new class of personal, connected health devices. At first these devices and services will become staples of clinical trial studies, will soon find their way onto physician’s prescription notepads and then into the larger home health and consumer markets.

Editor's note: Dolan will be participating on a panel focused on innovation in mobile at IIR's 10th Annual ePharma Summit on February 9th. For more information or to register for the event, please visit


Prior to co-founding MobiHealthNews in 2008, Brian Dolan was a senior analyst at Boston-based research firm Yankee Group, where he led program development for the company’s Mobile Internet World event. Dolan has chaired mobile health industry conferences in the US, Middle East and Europe and frequently serves as an industry expert for the consumer press. MobiHealthNews offers daily coverage of the mobile health industry, a free weekly newsletter, and paid research reports as well as custom research projects for a number of Fortune 500 companies in the medtech and telecom industries. He may be contacted at or on Twitter @MobileHealth
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