Forecast to generate US$23 billion in global revenue by 2017, mobile health will be a key enabler of healthcare delivery, reaching every corner of the globe, says GSMA’s Jeanine Vos.
The provision of healthcare services faces very different challenges in developed and emerging economies. Containing costs while improving quality of life for a growing ageing population is keeping policymakers in Europe and the United States up at night. Simply providing access to essential healthcare services is the greatest challenge in developing countries. Mobile technology can be a key to solving both of those problems, according to GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide.
GSMA predicts that the m-health market will generate global revenues in the neighbourhood of US$23 billion by 2017, according to a report conducted by PwC on its behalf. (Some of the findings of the report are listed at the end of this article.) “By 2017, mobile technology will be a key enabler of healthcare delivery, reaching every corner of the globe,” says GSMA’s Jeanine Vos, Executive Director, mHealth. “Developed countries need to reduce the cost of universal healthcare,” she explains, “while developing countries look to roll out life-saving services to in-need communities. Mobile technology offers the ability to deliver highly effective, scalable and affordable healthcare beyond the confines of a hospital or doctor’s office,” says Vos. EMDT caught up with Vos recently and asked her a few questions about the future of m-health. It won’t come as a surprise that she sees boundless opportunities, even if a concerted effort from governments, regulators, the healthcare industry and the mobile technology ecosystem will be required to achieve m-health’s full potential.
M-health’s greatest strength is the ubiquity of the platform technology, says Vos. “Mobile technology is here today,” says Vos, “and the services are tried and tested.” That is equally true of developed markets and emerging economies, where the cell phone is the poster child for leapfrog technologies.
“In developing markets, we see m-health providing an opportunity to increase access to health services and help government and providers better manage patient data and understand key health concerns,” says Vos. “Those technologies can range from simple SMS or apps to the more-complex solutions you find in developed economies, such as a healthcare provider using multiple devices to track key vitals.”
GSMA tracks all commercial deployments that fit under the m-health umbrella on its website; currently, more than 300 are catalogued. Are there any flagship applications that she could point to, I asked. Yes, she answered without hesitation: the Vitality Glow Cap.
“In the United States, a standard bottle is used for prescription medication, and Vitality has developed a cap that sits on top of the bottle to audibly and visually remind the patient when it is time to take the pill,” says Vos. The Glow Cap also tracks patient compliance by wirelessly transmitting user behaviour to a database, where it is archived and can be accessed by healthcare providers. The device was a 2010 Medical Design Excellence Awards winner.
“Tracking systems for Alzheimer’s patients are another great example,” adds Vos. “They are easy to use—they can be worn around the neck and have a direct emergency response system that alerts caregivers,” she explains. The devices also keep track of the user’s location, and alarms can be set if the patient strays from a particular location.
While m-health has tremendous potential, significant obstacles must be overcome if the technology is to achieve its full potential. Vos acknowledges as much. “We have been working with our members to understand the policy and regulatory impact points for m-health,” she says. “In particular, we have been pushing for clarity in principles and approaches. Of course, governments play a vital role in enabling m-health on the policy side. From a regulatory perspective, it’s important to promote the harmonisation of standards and technology so that we can achieve interoperability, economies of scale and ease of use.” Other delicate regulatory questions will need to be addressed as the technology evolves, especially when the device goes beyond merely providing network connectivity or serving as a component in a medical system. Stay tuned.
At the end of the day, however, the reason that mobile technology has had such tremendous uptake is because it is built on a common idea, a common platform that interacts effectively around the world, says Vos. “We see that as a key success factor for m-health, as well.”