David Dunlap was helping one of his assistants figure out what ailed her when he came up with the idea for a new mobile app.
“I knew within a couple of questions the answer to it,” says Dunlap, a doctor at First Med Family & Walk-in Care in Lawrence. “I realized that if you can just ask the right questions you’d be able to diagnose skin ailments.”
So he hired a computer programmer to write a software program that would do just that. The result was What’s My Rash?, a program that guides users through a series of questions and offers an array of images to help identify rashes.
Dunlap’s venture is part of a burgeoning trend in medical mobile apps, known in the health care industry as “mHealth.”
Industry analysts predict a potentially vast market for mHealth applications, which can range from diagnostic software like What’s My Rash? to programs that monitor vital signs to text messages to help regulate pharmaceutical treatments.
Nearly a third of all cell-phone users in the United States have accessed medical information with their mobile devices, according to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey. And the PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute recently discovered that 40 percent of consumers would pay a premium for mobile app medical services.
Dunlap can understand why.
“I think it’s such a great tool,” he says. “It’s like having all the information from four different books in your pocket.”
Dunlap isn’t the only Lawrence resident in the mHealth business. Raymond Munoz, case manager for Douglas County Dental Clinic, has submitted an app to Apple for a third time after cleaning up some bugs, and he’s waiting for approval.
“Everything seems perfect this time, so I hope it’s soon,” he says.
The app would feature the clinic’s oral health videos, Tweets, dental news and contact information.
“This is an app that’s been on the back burner for a while now. I’m glad I finally had time to create it,” Munoz says.
Dunlap has wanted to get into the hand-held software business ever since he got a Palm Pilot 10 years ago. But it wasn’t until this year that he decided to step up and make an investment.
He was motivated in part by a missed opportunity.
“I had an idea for a golf app,” he says. “I wanted to make something so you could use your phone as a level, so you could read the break of the green.”
He approached some software developers with the idea. The cost, however, was more than he felt he could afford at the time.
“About four months later, I saw that someone else had developed it, and it was a top-20 (best-selling) app,” he says. “I was disappointed. I should have followed through.”
What’s My Rash? cost $10,000 to develop, Dunlap says. So far he has sold about 300 of them.
“The hope is that it will pay for itself,” he says, noting that buyers pay $3 per copy on iTunes and that Apple takes a 30 percent commission. “It will take a long time to get there.”
Yet he’s optimistic. He has tossed around ideas for even more apps that could be developed in the future.
“When there are 100 million iPhone and iPad users out there, you just need a small amount to make it profitable,” he says. “You just have to find the right little niche.”