U.S.-based mobile carriers have the potential of serving as valuable bridges between healthcare providers and their patients in facilitating digital communications.

That is the finding of new research from technology analysis firm Parks Associates, which observes that U.S. carriers have been slow to make their way into the wellness and fitness space, unlike carriers in global markets, particularly Asia, where carriers have been aggressive in entering the health markets.

“Digital health is an important part of the Internet of Everything, and wireless carriers need to align their connected health businesses with their larger connected living strategies,” said Parks research director Jennifer Kent. “Mobile carriers have multiple opportunities to provide value for business customers and consumers, though the landscape differs significantly by region.”

The research firm reports that connected health devices accounted for approximately 4 percent of all M2M (machine-to-machine) connections in the U.S. in 2014. Parks Associates estimates that portion will double over the next five years as the healthcare vertical catches up to other, more mature M2M verticals, such as automotive and industrial telematics.

“U.S. mobile carriers are focused on providing enterprise services, like cloud storage and teleconferencing solutions, to their healthcare provider clients,” Kent said. “However, carriers can play a valuable role in the consumer space. Given their established relationships with consumers, expertise in providing consumer-facing services, and connection to consumers’ mobile devices, carriers can bridge the divide between care providers and consumers, particularly in regards to health data collection and transfer as well as communications between providers and patients.”

The report, Mobile Carriers and Wireless Healthcare Opportunities, says more than 40 million smartphone owners are active users of at least one wellness or fitness app. About one in four heads of household in broadband households use a mobile app to track their fitness progress or calorie intake, and the research firm expects usage and adoption to increase with the release of new mobile form factors such as the Apple Watch.

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