- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 01 November 2012 04:04, Updated 21 November 2012 07:33
After Recovery Record co-founder Jenna Tregarthen watched a close friend grapple with an eating disorder for more than 15 years, she realised there was a gap in the market for a mobile health app.
“Our application aims to solve a problem for people living with mental health conditions who need a more engaging way to fulfil their therapy homework,” Tregarthen says. “At the moment it’s all pen and paper based.”
Recovery Record is a tool used to treat conditions such as binge eating disorder, overeating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorders not otherwise specified. Users can set up prompts to remember to eat, record what they eat and the feelings they experience doing so and opt in to allowing their health professional access to the data. The app tries to provide positive reinforcement by rewarding the user with inspirational images and messages for logging a meal.
Tregarthen says the app has proven popular – with 20,000 people using it around the world, about 1000 of them in Australia – and with about 1 million forms created so far, it represents one of the world’s biggest repositories of data on eating disorders. Patients are taking it to their doctors and about 700 clinicians are using it, Tregarthen adds.
The app has been offered free so far but the company is looking at a number of business models, including offering software as a service to clinicians or licensing agreements with health insurance companies and healthcare providers. Tregarthen says she would prefer not to charge patients for the app, nor to sell the company at this stage.
Recovery Record is tapping into one of the latest hot business trends. Trendwatching.com managing partner and global head of research Henry Mason says the explosion in mobile health apps reflects a trend called “DIY Health”.
“The number of health apps in the iTunes app store has grown to over 10,000 in the last two years and the size of this health market is going to grow from over $US2 billion to over $US4 billion in the next couple of years,” Mason says. “It’s a huge business opportunity.”
Sanofi Diabetes, which makes mobile blood glucose meters for diabetics, has developed a version that connects with an iPhone app, the iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter. The patients prick their fingers and then plug the sample directly into their iPhones for real-time monitoring of blood sugar levels and the ability to share the data with a doctor. Although the app is free, the business case is that it helps Sanofi sell more of the blood glucose meters.
This is also the business model for Weight Watchers’ popular weight loss app for iPhone, with the Android version in development. The app – which allows users to track meals, research the nutritional content of food and look up recipes – is free with limited features but full functionality is only for people with a current Weight Watchers account.
Weight Watchers head of digital Stephan Gervois says the app underpins the main conditions of success for people on its program: changing diet and learning new habits, regular physical activity and a support network to maximise motivation.
“With the introduction of the iPhone app came the opportunity to provide members with 360 degree, round-the-clock support in the form of plan information where members want it and when they want it,” Gervois says.
The app has been downloaded 300,000 times since its release in November 2010, with more than 20,000 updating to the latest version in just one day in May 2012.
The mobile health app opportunity is not just for consumers managing their own health but also extends to medical professionals.
For example, MIMS Australia now offers its comprehensive medicines directory used by doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals as an iPhone app. In a straight fee-for-service model, the app costs $164, with a pill identifier as an optional extra for $15.
Additional reporting: Samantha Hutchinson, Jessica Gardner