M-health comes off life support

After a prolonged period in a stable but largely unresponsive condition, the patient is beginning to show signs of life. The healthcare market has been slow to develop for mobile operators, stalled by regulatory and organizational complexities in national healthcare systems.
But previously-anemic business models are now looking stronger as operators find creative ways to deliver sustainable m-health revenue.
Among the early innovators is Turkey’s second operator, Turkcell. Its SMS information service for expectant mothers launched in 2010 and now has 110,000 customers each receiving around three messages a week. The company is also working on a home monitoring service for diabetes and hypertension sufferers, among other initiatives.
Turkcell’s innovation is not especially in the design of its m-health services – other mobile operators will follow much the same path, forming similar partnerships with medical institutions and device manufactures. Orange Healthcare, for example, also offers a pregnancy advisory service in Egypt.
Where Turkcell is ahead of its peers is in recognizing its true value in the healthcare value chain. Yes, consumers and patients can benefit from remote consultations that save travel expense and stress and help them take a proactive role in their own care. Yes, healthcare providers can potentially make huge savings in the cost of delivery.
However, the wider benefits of m-health will fall outside the doctor-patient relationship. More importantly for sustainable business models, m-health services present a valuable marketing platform for pharmaceutical (pharma) and other medical suppliers seeking to promote their products to targeted audiences.
Big pharma is currently undergoing a fundamental rethink of its business model. Drug R&D is a high-cost, high-risk game. Breakthrough treatments can earn billions, but the rigors of regulatory compliance exhaust the potential of the majority of products before they ever get to market.
The industry is now looking more closely at ways to improve take-up of its existing products. M-health will have a key role as the platform to promote particular treatments and encourage patients to re-order supplies. Just the availability of a ‘click to order’ button on a smart-phone could greatly increase consumption by minimizing the delay between one stock of medicine or accessories running out and the next beginning.
Ironically, pharma is facing tougher regulation worldwide as regulators seek to curb excessive marketing of healthcare products to patients and doctors. In response, it’s not unknown for desperate sales reps to hospitalize themselves in a bid to get in front of medical staff (though it’s hard to imagine a successful pitch using this method!).
M-health service providers that can deliver the message to patients and medical professionals – not to mention the massed ranks of ‘worried well’ consumers – will have a powerful business proposition for pharma companies, many of which are existing large enterprise customers.
If they’re slow to do so, the OTT players will certainly not hesitate to seize the initiative.

Sheridan Nye is a senior analyst in the enterprise verticals practice of Informa Telecoms & Media. For more information visit www.informatandm.com/