Still, those heavily hyped plans remained pilot programs, and mobility never seemed to catch on. And then came the iPhone. Within a year, the app went from concept to fruition, sparking billions of microprograms that do everything from play games to balance your checkbook. It's official: The age of the app has arrived.
According to a recent report from Manhattan Research, in 2009, more than 20 million adults used a mobile device to search for health information. That number is pretty staggering considering high-speed Internet access for phones has only really been around for a handful of years."There is nobody that I know [in the pharma industry] that isn't working on a concept design; an RFP ... there's definitely a great deal of interest in looking at where application fit into the communications mix," explains Ignite Health founder and CIO Fabio Gratton.
"Applications are easy to use, updatable, and mobile—they just make a lot more sense than a Web site that patients may or may not visit," says Nima Farzan, US head of marketing for vaccines and diagnostics at Novartis. "One of the neat things about the platform is that it really opens our eyes to some innovative ways to reach out to people. There was probably nothing stopping us from having a [Web] program like Vaxtrak available three years ago, but it took something like [the iPhone] to show that mobile applications can really address a problem—which in our case was to raise immunization rates."
Manhattan Research data shows that, as of this year, 72 percent of US physicians own smart phones. And that's likely to increase to 81 percent penetration by 2012. Currently, the RIM Blackberry and the Apple iPhone are neck-and-neck in terms of physician users, but Google's Android platform is creeping up, albeit slowly. PALM also has an app store, but its numbers are far from healthy.