So many diabetes apps but so few users

The latest report on adoption of mHealth apps paints an all-too-familiar picture: Consumers aren't using the apps because they're too difficult to use. But there is hope for the future.

The report comes from the German market firm Research2Guidance and takes a look at the growing market for mobile diabetes apps. It's ripe with possibility: An estimated 382 million people worldwide  have the chronic condition, and that number is expected to soar to 592 million by 2035.

But only 1.6 million of the world's diabetics who have access to a smartphone or other mHealth-capable device – a paltry 1.2 percent of the target diabetic population – used a diabetes app by the end of 2013, the firm said.

[See also: Diabetes apps assuming mHealth bellwether role.]

Company officials say that's because many of the 1,100 diabetes-related apps on the market today still rely on manual input of data, have problems integrating with existing blood-glucose meters or fail to do what diabetics want them to do – namely, measure blood sugar, activity and food intake. Fewer still include motivational messages, communication or gamification tools.

"Currently diabetes apps are not meeting the expectations of app publishers, healthcare professionals and diabetic patients, which leads to a low acceptance rate within the target group," the company said in a blog post accompanying its Diabetes App Market Report 2014.

"Another reason is that traditional healthcare payers have not yet started to integrate diabetes apps into their reimbursement schemes. In their view the quality of the numerous existing clinical studies is not good enough to justify the expenditure," the company said.

Looking ahead, Research2Guidance said four factors will drive adoption of diabetes apps:

  1. The continued growth of the market;
  2. The evolution of mobile apps from a stand-alone product to one that can be bundled with other apps and devices;
  3. More – and better – apps that meet best practice guidelines; and
  4. Reimbursement from payers. 

Based on these factors, company officials expect the number of people using diabetes apps to grow 71 percent a year over the next five years, to 7.8 percent of the addressable market by 2018.

Furthermore, company officials said the diabetes app market has the best business upside of any of the mHealth apps.

"The next five years will bring the diabetes app market to a new level," company officials explained. "Chances for a major market breakthrough have improved."

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