Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) , Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) , and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) recently teased us with glimpses of wearable health monitoring networks that will connect wearable devices, medical devices, and tracking apps to the smartphone via the cloud. Other smaller companies -- like Fitbit, iHealthLab, Masimo, and Withings -- have also launched exciting new products which could also represent the future of mobile health (mHealth).
The mHealth market was only worth $650 million in 2013, but it is expected to blossom at an annual growth rate of 43.3% to hit $8.03 billion by 2019, according to a recent report from Transparency Market Research (TMR).
Therefore, Investors should pay close attention to the three largest categories listed in TMR's report -- cardiac monitors, glucose monitors, and blood pressure monitors -- to recognize the main players in those three fields.
A recent Mayo Clinic study found that using cardiac monitoring smartphone apps during cardiac rehabilitation could reduce hospital readmissions by 40%. Numerous apps already use a smartphone's camera flash to take a heart rate reading, but wearable devices are required to provide continuous data throughout the day.
Yet the three main fitness bands in the market -- Fitbit's Flex, Jawbone's UP, and Nike's FuelBand -- do not offer this feature due to the cost of production. All three bands cost $100 to $150, while Samsung's heart-rate tracking Galaxy Gear initially launched at $300 last year.
But the average price of heart rate monitoring bands has fallen dramatically in 2014. Cheaper devices, such as the Basis B1, Withings Pulse O2, and Samsung Gear Fit, now include heart rate monitors for under $200. Samsung's Simband modular reference design, which will be licensed to third-party developers of smart watches with interchangeable sensors, could also lead to an influx of cheaper smart watches with heart rate monitors.
As a result, research firm Canalys expects global shipments of wearables to surge from 8 million in 2014 to over 45 million in 2017.
Smart glucose monitors
The CDC has forecast that 1 out of 3 adult Americans could be diabetic by 2050. That bleak growth rate has fueled the demand for more smartphone-based glucose monitors.
But a recent study in the U.S. Endocrinology journal found that mobile monitoring of diabetic employees can cut more than $3,000 per employee per year in health care costs -- roughly half the annual medical insurance cost of workers diagnosed with diabetes. The study paired Telcare's Diabetes Management System, the first FDA-approved cellular glucose monitor, with a constant data monitoring service from ActiveCare.
Many competing devices have emerged since TelCare's breakthrough approval in 2011. Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ ) OneTouch Verio Sync, which was approved in March 2013, is similar to Telcare's system, but it utilizes Bluetooth connections to iOS devices instead of cellular ones. iHealth Labs' wireless glucose meter, which also pairs with iOS devices via Bluetooth, is another similar FDA-approved product. Both wireless monitors are considered major improvements over previous devices, which needed be plugged into the phone to sync to their companion apps.
Blood pressure monitors
Investors who have been following the recent developments in mHealth will notice that Withings is a rising star in the field.
The French company, which burst on the scene in 2008 with the Wi-Fi scale, has also generated a lot of attention with its second product -- a blood pressure (BP) monitor which connects to the iPhone which launched in 2011. Withings' approach was simple -- to sell a cloud-connected BP monitor at a comparable price to standard BP monitors. The results can be logged to the cloud, compared to WHO standards, and shared with medical professionals.
That elegant solution has made Withings a major partner for Apple's HealthKit and WebMD's Healthy Target efforts. Both HealthKit and Healthy Target attempt to gather data from various fitness trackers, medical devices, and apps onto a single unified dashboard. When Google formally launches Google Fit, its Android-based answer to HealthKit, Withings will likely be named a partner as well.
BP monitors from Withings and its competitors will accomplish the same goals as cardiac and glucose monitors -- they can reduce hospital readmissions, cut insurance costs, and improve overall patient health.
The Foolish takeaway
In closing, the growth of the mHealth market isn't all about sales growth -- it's also about savings. A 2012 Brookings Institution study estimated that remote monitoring of chronic diseases in the U.S. could cut health care costs by $200 billion over the next 25 years.
Those numbers indicate that mHealth will be a major growth industry, and investors should keep a close eye on both large companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung, and smaller ones like Withings to fully understand the market.
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