Your iPhone can get you pregnant: the rise of smartphone healthcare

This post was written by Paris Wallace, co-founder and CEO of Ovuline. He previously co-founded Good Start Genetics, a genomics technology company focused on fertility and reproductive health. Follow Paris at @Paris_Wallace.

Last year, about twice as many babies were conceived with the help of mobile apps than with in vitro fertilization (IVF). This isn’t quite a fair comparison: obviously IVF is a much bigger commitment than downloading an app. But where it took more than forty years for IVF to achieve the number of pregnancies it has today, fertility apps have gotten there in two years. They are quickly becoming the standard for people who are trying to conceive, or at least the first step. Mobile apps are starting to replace high-cost healthcare, and it signals a significant shift in the way that people approach their health.

If you want to see the future of healthcare, fertility is a useful model for a few reasons:

  • it is an early adopter of new technology;
  • the majority of procedures are paid for by patients, not insurers;
  • successes are easily quantified and tracked through pregnancy;
  • identifying infertility is usually a straightforward combination of time trying to conceive and age; and
  • fertility clinics’ performance metrics are publicly available through the CDC.

Fertility is a health sub-market where apps have begun to replaced traditional, more expensive interventions because low-cost, highly-scalable consumer apps are working. We’re seeing more babies conceived using these apps than with traditional forms of reproductive technology, and for far less money.

Fertility mobile apps

There are hundreds of thousands of fertility app users each year in the US. These individuals are sharing more with their phones than with their doctors. Unlike a doctor who might be able to see 17 patients a day, an app sees thousands an hour. The fertility app industry itself has dramatically matured since its conception (pun intended). Early apps lacked sophistication and were likely to come from developers coding in the basement, but today’s new breed of apps are powered PhD’s working with doctors. They’re using sophisticated algorithms and science in a way that was only possible by using medical systems previously. There has been exponential adoption.

The mobile fertility, pregnancy, and baby market is large and growing. The “trying to conceive” market in the US is about two million; one million of those are women who use mobile apps. Add in women who use apps to track their pregnancies and new babies, and the total annual market size reaches 10 to 12 million. My company Ovuline has 500,000 users growing at 20% per month and 100 million user-submitted data points. Over half of our users go on to report a pregnancy or remain active in our app, Ovia Fertility.

Fertility apps track user metrics like basal body temperature (BBT), mood, weight, and menstrual period and apply sophisticated algorithms to predict when users are most fertile. Some give users tips to boost their fertility and help them time intercourse. Our demographics tell us that the average Ovia Fertility user is a woman in her late twenties who’s actively trying to conceive her first child. She has a college degree, earns $75K or higher each year, and uses her fertility app first thing in the morning each day.

new Ovia fertility charts

For some infertile couples, fertility apps are a first step in trying to conceive without Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Cost is a factor: fertility apps are free or a few dollars, compared to the $12,000 cost of an average IVF cycle (and that’s not including $3-5K for necessary medications). Others say they use fertility apps alongside their ART treatments to maximize their chances of conceiving. Of all Ovia Fertility users, about twenty percent are identified as infertile. Of those, ten percent go on to report a successful pregnancy.

Since 2013, over 82,000 people have reported a pregnancy in our app, with more than 100,000 Ovia pregnancies total since its launch. Adding in the pregnancies that others in the space have reported, like Kindara and Glow, and the number of app-assisted pregnancies in 2013 tops 120,000. That’s twice the yearly number of IVF conceptions in the US, which has hovered above 60,000 since 2007.

Anywhere that a phone can replace an expensive health care intervention and save patients thousands, it will. Mobile app pregnancies surpassing IVF is just the beginning of the tech healthcare revolution. People will actually be better served with cheaper, data-driven options like apps than by more expensive, people-driven alternatives. Pretty soon, it’ll be time to say goodbye to the waiting room and hello to your smartphone.