The rush to be involved with mobile health (mHealth) has almost become unseemly. The latest European operator to announce its intentions is Orange with the launch of its 'smartnumbers' concept that aims to improve patient care. (For more on this see the Orange story in this edition.)
However, while the majority of the larger European operators have announced or launched some form of mHealth initiative, difficult questions are beginning to surface.
Some commentators are worried about the 6,000--and fast increasing--number of medical apps that are available today for smartphone users. Concerns have been raised regarding the level of clinical trials these apps have been subjected to, and their actual effectiveness in changing health behaviours.
At a simplistic level, such as calorie tracking, these apps might provide useful guidance, but moving into the medical field probably requires more care and something tailored to the individual--and under the control of a professional.
If the medical establishment does adopt mHealth as a means of providing better and more suitable patient care, then a suitable charging model must be created.
Medical associations have already opened discussions over how clinicians would be compensated for 'virtual visits', given that they could regularly find themselves consulting, diagnosing, and treating patients using text messages, smartphones and Web-based communication.
What also remains hidden from view today is how operators will charge for their services--hopefully not based upon the shambolic tariffs associated with mobile broadband.
However, these issues are readily surmountable and mHealth does seem to hold huge potential for providing medical services in a more prompt and possibly more cost effective manner. - Paul