Cell phones have become our lifelines, and not just metaphorically. Smartphone users are expected to download some 44 million mobile health, or m-health, apps in 2012, according to Juniper Research. By 2017, the m-health juggernaut is forecast to generate global revenues approaching US$23 billion, says GSMA, a body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide.
The economic opportunities are tremendous, but m-health technology also has the capacity to engineer profound change by applying adaptive solutions to disparate societal needs. In developed economies, m-health can substantially reduce healthcare costs and improve quality of life by providing ubiquitous patient monitoring, to cite one example. In emerging economies, it can transform the healthcare ecosystem. An article in the March/April 2012 issue of Technology Review illustrates the latter point well.
In 2010, the Kenyan government decided to do something about its chaotic system for tracking infectious diseases, writes Technology Review Chief Correspondent David Talbot in an article titled “Kenya’s Startup Boom.” In time-honoured fashion, the health ministry turned to a multinational telecommunications company, which wanted to shower the country with dedicated mobile phones, SIM cards and data-related apps. The price tag was going to be in the neighbourhood of US$1.9 million. Calling into question the monopoly that the carrier would have, Kenya’s attorney general halted the deal. A call was made to an IT instructor at Nairobi’s Strathmore University to see if there wasn't a less onerous way to achieve the same goal. The instructor recommended putting four students on the project. By the summer of 2011, the quartet had “pounded out the app and polished up the database software to allow disease reporting from any mobile web interface,” writes Talbot. It cost a fraction of what the multinational wanted to charge.
In our part of the world, we have other needs, as well as our own indigenous roadblocks to overcome if m-health is to achieve its full potential. How do we get there from here? You can start by turning to page 24 and reading “Going Mobile: The Emergence of the M-Health Market.” Then read our exclusive interview with Jeanine Vos, Executive Director, mHealth, at GSMA.
Did that get some wheels turning? Good. Now you can start making a few calls about m-health on that smartphone of yours.