It was very positive to see Orange’s VP Philippe Lucas (pictured above) accepting a well deserved “Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough” award for “Mobile High Definition (HD) Voice”. HD Voice is so good and can add so much value to calls. Not only does it encourage use of mobiles but it can be life saving in emergency calls when enhanced sound quality has a marked effect on the efficiency of communication. This is a perfect example of the enabling mHealth environment that operators should be supporting.
I personally think that poor sound quality is a key reason seniors and the hard of hearing have been slower to shift from landlines to mobiles… the youth have such powerful imaginations and other priorities (like price) that I think they’ll readily adopt low quality voice calls but HD makes it as though you’re in the same room, which is great for mobile newbies as well as anyone who can benefit from higher quality voice calls.
As an example of how important I think the issue of voice quality is, the most disappointing exhibition stand for me belonged to Sennheiser. This headset company is owned by Oticon (a hearing aid company) and is ideally positioned to add their expertise to offer something of value to the millions of hard of hearing, an issue that effects the entire population now as a result of abuse from in-ear music playing amongst the iPod generation.
Orange’s mHealth Press Release
We knew it was coming but at 2pm on Thursday the embargo was lifted and the details emerged on what we hoped would be an exciting development between France Telecom and the mHealth Alliance of the UN Foundation. Here is the link to the Orange/FT Group press release: “Orange Healthcare announced today that they will be joining the mHealth Alliance”.
The initiative was received positively and I noticed no one questioning what it meant. It made me wonder whether this was the intention. A bit like the nonsense I noticed being done by Harvard Volunteers with an iPhone in crisis hit Haiti recently, and again it seems that its not the “done thing” to challenge “charitable” efforts trying to serve people who “need help”.
The agreement was widely viewed as a confident step into mHealth by yet another operator (it follows a similar agreement last year by Vodafone) but to me the facts contradict this because:
1) This agreement only covers a short term commitment to the joint project and involves NO FINANCIAL COMMITMENT whatsoever. Unlike the approach Vodafone has taken to this alliance (they initially committed $30million over 5 years) there is no dedicated budget associated with this agreement. Ring fenced funds are key to breaking the adoption barriers, without these the chances are this will never make it beyond being just another pilot/trial or research paper. In a world of 4 Billion Mobiles that can/are all being used for mHealth delivery surely we’ve gone beyond the need for a paper that says this can actually be done?
In a world full of talk and in need of action even with my wide eyed mHealth optimism I’m failing to see this being anything more than just another agreement to “plan something” in mHealth that could be commercially successful in a developing market.
2) The aim of the project is to “Review mHealth Projects in emerging markets” – something that is fraught with difficulties and for which the mHealth Alliance has a particularly poor reputation (eg. of the 50+ companies it profiled last year less than half materialised into anything more than an idea or research paper).
3) In my opinion the mHealth Alliance would do more good if it made headway with the more difficult job of signing up real world (non-mobile) sector partners. Instead of adding mobile operator partners (who already get the opportunity – or at least should) they should be trying to muster support from the likes of Telecom San Frontiers, ChildLine International, UNICEF, WHO, Millenium Village Project, GOAL, etc.
Hopefully with some recent new appointments (eg. the very capable Alison Bloch), talk of more openness and some new partnerships we’re going to see some action from the mHealth Alliance, but at the moment this seems just like some last ditch attempt to say ”we’ve done something since this time last year” and “it’s in the developing world so you can’t challenge it”.
Orange is one of the top 10 revenue generating mobile companies, we should expect more before we herald it, especially when their Medical Director is joining the ill thought consensus (of Vodafone and Telefonica) that we heard at Mobile World Congress by stating that “we’ll never offer an end to end mHealth service”. It’s been a decade (and a big take over) since Orange was launched on the world by Hans Snook as a “media company” and it’s about time that Mobile operators start taking some responsibility for the well being of their customers. I think they should start doing this by working with forward thinking public health workers because no one else has the opportunity and data sets to be able to do what they can.
Even a simple hydration app (as pictured above) could have enormous impact on the lives of patients today. With meteorological reports suggesting that France may face another heatwave this summer can a state owned Mobile Operator continue to ignore their responsibility to serve public health needs?
I don’t think they can when you consider how a two week long heatwave in 2003 lead to the loss of 35,000 lives across Europe (15,000 in France) as a result of the effects of heat. The mobile operators were well aware of the temperatures, the vast majority of the deceased had access to a phone and there is no doubt that every one of these victims could have benefited from SMS reminders to take the necessary precautions eg. drinking more water.
On a more positive side imagine the brand loyalty that mobile operators could build by just offering useful health information within their mobile web portal. Location based personalised health information would be particularly useful when roaming eg. reliable data on the quality of local tap water, pandemic alerts, malaria area/risk, pollen count, etc.
This blog post is part of a series of mHealth reviews from the Mobile World Congress 2010. Click here to get the full review.