The global healthcare system is in a state of crisis. It currently accounts for 10% of global GDP and growing, but it’s an outdated system designed for treatment of acute sporadic diseases, not management of the chronic conditions that account for over 70% of healthcare costs today.
This is where Mobile Health (m-Health) comes in. Through mobile devices such as phones, monitors, digital assistants, direct care devices, and other wireless mechanisms, m-Health helps ameliorate these chronic conditions, and bring their costs to bear.
Current healthcare challenges are addressed in three ways:
Reduced Costs: The GSMA estimates that m-Health can save US$18 billion in costs for the existing healthcare systems in Brazil and Mexico alone, while the FCC predicts that remote monitoring of patients could save USS197 billion in the US over the next 25 years just by focusing on four diseases – diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary disease, and skin disease.
Higher Efficiency: m-Health solutions enable healthcare practitioners to diagnose, treat, and monitor more patients than face-to-face consultations would allow, thus freeing up time and resources for the more complex cases. In 2011, Scandinavian trials found that m-Health could reduce overnight hospital stays and re-hospitalization for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by 50 to 60%. m-Health can also bridge the gaps between urban and rural healthcare quality and availability. In China, the Philips-Huawei partnership, which aims to provide cloud-based and IoT solutions, focuses on China’s tier-two cities, which tend to lack equipment and qualified doctors.
Better Long-term Care: m-Health enables comprehensive healthcare through real-time data capture and analysis, better accessibility to information, enhanced patient ownership and understanding of their own conditions, and support with diet and lifestyle. In other words, it makes it easier for patients to manage their own health.
m-Health is Alive & Kicking
Monitoring technology can vary in complexity from tracking simple physiological data such as blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar, and body weight, to implantable devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators, whose running status can be monitored remotely.
In 2015, an astonishing 165,000 mobile health apps were available on the iOS and Android platforms ─ about twice as many as just two years earlier. All monitoring services rely on mobile connectivity, which is great news for mobile network operators (MNOs). According to EY, the addressable market of remote monitoring for MNOs will reach US$69 billion in 2022. Chronic disease management will be the biggest sub-segment in remote monitoring services, especially for target groups like the elderly, children, and athletes. By 2022, these sub-segments will account for 40% of the market.
Wearables include embedded sensors, wireless communications, multimedia and other tech in eyewear, watches, bracelets, clothing, footwear and other daily wear. For example, clothing can monitor oxygen supply and posture, shoes can calculate calories consumed and distance moved, while glasses can record the surrounding environment.
According to Ovum, 277 million wearable units will be purchased by the end of 2020, up from 97 million in 2015. This will represent nothing less than a healthcare revolution. In addition recording blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen content, temperature, respiratory rate and other health indicators, they will also treat diseases. Numerous telecoms are exploring the wearables market, including NTT DoCoMo, which launched Moveband health trackers with the electronics manufacturer Omron. Automatically transmitted to DoCoMo’s app, the data collected enables full health management and, by year-end 2015, the service attracted two million users in Japan.
For enterprises like Omron, the consumer healthcare space is wide open, with no dominant brand standing in the way.
Remote care uses ICT for research, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and injury across distances, which sounds like a potential goldmine, but several barriers hinder its mass deployment. First, remote schemes are usually non-profit programs designed for underdeveloped regions where ongoing investment isn’t guaranteed. Second, no international legal framework exists to protect privacy or set out liability, meaning both patients and HCPs face risk. Third, language and cultural differences mean that patients and HCPs often can’t communicate effectively, particularly in underserved regions such as Africa. Rural hospitals also lack critical maintenance support for the high-tech equipment used for remote care.
Telcos in m-Health
MNOs have two unique advantages in the m-Health ecosystem – stable and secure mobile networks that cover wide areas, and legacy call centers. Both combine to enable E2E value-added emergency services, and extend the reach of healthcare into underserved regions. Beyond technology, a huge customer base and close relationships with governments can help attract other stakeholders.
MNOs could use the “open door” strategy for developing platforms for device providers. On specialized SIM cards, customers could activate tracking and emergency services, and MNOs could cooperate with governments and hospitals to promote emergency remote diagnosis and in-ambulance treatments enabled by robust networks.
Telecoms Big Data analytics capabilities could contribute to health risk control and disease prevention, while cooperation with key stakeholders could persuade governments to position m-Health as a standard treatment solution for chronic disease management.