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4/7/2011
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Mobile Health To Transform Healthcare Delivery

The mobile healthcare market will approach $10 billion in the next 5 years, according to a report from global management consulting firm Arthur D. Little.

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As the current healthcare delivery system takes on older patients, becomes increasingly expensive, and is marred by a significant shortage of medical staff, advances in mobile technology for healthcare, which reduces costs and closes the geographic gap in care between patients and healthcare providers, has the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered. That's the conclusion of a report from Arthur D. Little, a global management consultancy firm.

Published earlier this week, the report – "Capturing Value in the mHealth Oasis: An Opportunity for Mobile Network Operators?" -- focuses on the changing dynamics of the healthcare delivery system, and the role that mobile network operators (MNOs) can play as they provide mHealth systems for healthcare delivery organizations.

Undoubtedly, the mobile health or mHealth market is growing. According to the report, "given the prospects for mHealth, it is not surprising that analysts are estimating mHealth's potential value to be up to $10 billion within the next five years." Other reports have pegged mHealth's potential market value even higher.

The term mHealth describes the use of mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets like the iPad, and other mobile devices that enable the transmission of patient information among healthcare providers at the point of care.

The report from Arthur D. Little breaks down the healthcare market into two categories -- a developed market and an emerging market -- and said that both are unsustainable and require different approaches from MNOs as they seek to build a business in a healthcare system that is upgrading its technology infrastructure.

The developed market, the report said, has an aging population whose care is in large part focused on long-term management of chronic conditions where care becomes increasingly expensive. In this market, there is more likely to be an established healthcare infrastructure, and a highly regulated healthcare environment that enforces controls on the provision of healthcare, its participants, and the accessibility of medical records. In this market, the report recommended that mHealth providers should leverage existing technologies. The report also suggested that mHealth should be seen as a complementary system that can bring sophisticated enhancements to traditional healthcare services.

By contrast, emerging markets face shortages of trained medical staff, which has resulted in the inability of patients to get basic medical care. Additionally, emerging markets suffer from an inadequate healthcare infrastructure and have few regulations. And many patients have little ability to pay for the service. But there is rapid growth in mobile penetration. In this market, penetration will come from simplifying the terms for adopting the technology. The report also notes that in emerging markets mHealth can provide fundamental healthcare access to the masses.

According to Karim Taga, director at Arthur D. Little's Telecoms, Information, Media & Electronics (TIME) Practice, mHealth is unlike any other mobile service and requires a completely new marketing strategy. He also said creating mHealth systems will differ depending on the demand for, and the nature of, mHealth services and the degree of development and specific characteristics of individual markets.

"In emerging markets, mHealth solutions, such as the delivery of medical information by SMS or MMS, medicine reminders, remote data collection, and medical help-lines, can help improve patients' access to basic medical care. In these markets, the MNO must take a leading role in developing the ecosystem, and most crucially, must also engage the support of non-governmental organizations and government agencies with local expertise," Taga said in a statement.

He added that in developed markets with rapidly increasing smartphone penetration, health industry players are entering the mHealth market as a way to drastically reduce costs while focusing on prevention.

"In these markets, remote monitoring will be a key revenue driver. These services are typically offered at a premium, enabling mobile operators to add significant average revenue per user," Taga said.

The report noted that while mHealth is still a nascent market, there have been signs of significant growth potential, particularly in developing countries, where the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablet devices, such as the iPad, by healthcare providers has triggered a significant growth in the use of mHealth applications.

It is estimated that the market for such applications will reach $1.7 billion by the end of 2014. Furthermore, more than 500 million people, or roughly one-third of smartphone users, are expected to use healthcare mobile applications on their smartphones by 2015, the report said.

Finally, the report recommended several strategies: "The MNO must assess its own capabilities, decide what role it will play and how it will contribute to the service, align the internal capabilities required for the selected business model, and then partner with other players to acquire key capabilities to effectively and efficiently bring patients into the ecosystem."

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