Mobile devices are expected to provide health care to over 500 million people by 2015, improving immunization programs and offering cheap diagnostic tools to combat many of the world's diseases, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said. "Diagnosis of malaria and TB will likely be the first ones you can assign a number to and say without this mobile phone app these people would have died," Gates said in a keynote address at the mHealth Summit, a conference for companies involved in mobile technology and health. "In the diagnostics areas we're seeing some very good stuff come through."
In addition, he believes that mobile devices could eventually let health care professionals "actually be there with a patient, to be there in a clinic which might not be staffed with wholly trained doctors."
"But when I think about the biggest impacts, I think of patient reminders," Gates added. "You could get people to take medicines regularly, that's a huge one."
Currently, 43 percent of the medical applications in use are created for health professionals, according to a study that was part of the mHealth Summit. However mHealth predicts this could change with the expansion of personal, non-corporate interests.
"Our findings indicate that the long-expected mobile revolution in health care is set to happen," said Ralf-Gordon Jahns, lead researcher of the report. "Both health care providers and consumers are embracing smartphones as a means to improving health care."
Earlier this month, market research firm Research2Guidance released a similar report, citing that out of the 17,000 mHealth apps available in online stores, 74 percent of those adhere to a paid, compensatory business model.
Jeffrey Shuren, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, emphasized that open sourced, independent infrastructure will allow such mobile apps to succeed, and that the FDA is looking into various partnerships to ensure continued growth in the field.
But Gates thinks this could be just the beginning.
"Advances in robotics will greatly enhance health care delivery over the next decade," Gates said. "If you just pick one thing, it's got to be robots."
As traditional healthcare providers expand coverage and develop mobile apps, business models are expected to include other players like advertisers, healthcare services, and nonprofit organizations.
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