Cellcos must take active role in mHealth

Mobile has a major role to play in healthcare in emerging and developed markets, but operators have to get more involved and let users know it exists, according to a panel of experts.
Lisa Mitnick, executive director of Accenture’s Mobility Practice, said a recent survey of mobile users in developed markets found that many see value in using mobile phones for mHealth apps, but few were aware that compatible devices already existed.
Part of the reason had to do with the lack of large-scale rollouts of mHealth apps and devices – which itself is partly the product of a lack of interoperability or standards and concerns over the nature of the business model. But a key issue is simply getting the word out, Mitnick said during a mHealth panel at Mobile World Congress.
“The market needs education,” she said. “One result we found is that people generally do not correlate mHealth with lower healthcare costs. They don’t get it, so it’s very important to make that clear.”
Grameenphone CEO Kazi Islam demonstrated the potential of mHealth with some stark statistics from Bangladesh: 380 out of 1,000 women die of birth complications every year. Most give birth at home and only 12% get help from doctors. And the infant mortality rate is 5.28%.
These figures are typical of many emerging markets, he added.
“We have a population of 156 million people, but physicians represent just 0.03% of the population, and nurses just 0.014%,” Islam said. “So there will never be enough doctors to serve everyone.”
That’s why mobile phones can play a significant role to lessen that burden, he said. “Building more hospitals and hiring more doctors won’t be enough.”
Mitnick said that emerging markets were “absolutely” going to lead the drive for mHealth solutions, though she added that it’s important to remember that the sector is in its early days.
A complex ecosystem that includes device makers, software developers, regulators, healthcare providers, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, “all have to work together on this. It’s not like telematics, where the ecosystem is more straightforward.”
Mitnick advised cellcos in all markets to “stake your position now, because there is a market for it and it will take off. Focus on systems rather than single one-off apps or devices, and increase awareness of mHealth solutions and how it reduces costs.”
Clint McLellan senior director of business development at Qualcomm, and president and chair of the Board of Director at the Continua Health Alliance, added that it’s important to set realistic expectations when pitching mHealth solutions, not least to doctors.
“Often they expect a mobile healthcare app or tool to provide clinic-level performance, and that’s not going to be the case because that’s not the app here. What you’re providing is more information access than ever before,” he said.
Islam said vendors should improve their own awareness by seeing local conditions for themselves.”
“Come out of your nice buildings and come and see for yourself how life is in this part of the world where everything is overshadowed by pain and suffering.
“Once you’re out there, it doesn’t matter how small your idea is – you can build it better there than you can in your Manhattan office. Think of how to scale it and how to make it sustainable, then how to take it to the next country.”