O2 reveal more on their mHealth plans

Following on nicely from the recent launch announcement, James Middleton at Telecoms.com has an interesting update on Telefonica’s “first foray into the field of medicine” that includes an interview with Keith Nurcombe, O2’s new “Head of Health” and former Sales, Marketing & Operations Director at Health-Smart (a pioneering mHealth company that presented at last years Mobile Healthcare Industry Summit), as he aims to help the mobile operator brand make health services a key offering.

The new unit is tasked with:

> the decentralisation of clinical processes
> ubiquitous and remote access to services across Telefónica’s European & Latin American operations

Thankfully they’re not taking the emerging market focus we’ve heard other operators announce but I’m not sure their reasoning behind focusing on the mature markets is all that valid:

“The potential for mhealth is as great in mature markets as it is in the developing world and for much the same reason – a lack of resource”

I’m not so sure this can be justified when the UK government budget for healthcare runs to $160 Billion and includes millions on things like homeopathy.

The article also reports on statistics shared by Trinidad Jiménez, Spain’s minister of health and Telefónica chairman, César Alierta at the launch of O2 Health, in 2010:

> 13.5% of the world’s population (980 million people) are over 65
> 60% of these will suffer from chronic and degenerative illnesses

The thing that baffles me is if the CEO of the entire group has realised that the 65+ market is so big (and I think by now we all know the statistics showing this groups relative affluence/spending power) how come they aren’t even selling senior mobiles or mobile services? Check out the presentation I gave at the Senior Mobile Market Conference in London in which I outlined why I think adoption of mobiles by the senior community is fundamental if mHealth is to achieve its potential.

The article then starts analysing some rather of the more bizarre stats that have been called in when discussing the mHealth business case eg. Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group:

“although there are 2.3 billion mobile subscriptions in the developing world, there are only 11 million hospital beds and 300 million computers”

But how’s this all connected? Before we start reflecting on the number of hospital pillow cases why not think about the fact that there are now more people using mobile phones than tooth brushes, and armed with this information start to imagine the health education potential of mobiles (as data storage costs fall in line with Moores Law). How long before emerging market mobiles carry preloaded video content with advice on dental care and apps to remind and help users time their brushing regime? Services which of course could also be useful for patients within industrialized nations.

Keith Nurcombe also offered up some statistics:

“Global healthcare spend is running at a 5.5% increase year on year, That trend has got to stop, otherwise by 2080, 40% of global GDP will be on healthcare, which means none of us will be able to afford it.”

Can we really have a mobile operator that itself has only been with us for a decade making market predictions 70 years into the future?

But just because healthcare spend is rising doesn’t mean it will indefinitely continue, as there are lots of ways in which healthcare expectations can change. Doomsayers may be predicting “none of us will be able to afford healthcare” but isn’t this dismissive of the way in which individuals will alter their healthcare demand to suit tougher times? Even the effects of todays depressed economy on patient spending is being felt in certain quarters as this Wall Street Journal article reports.

“The NHS is looking for ways to do more with fewer resources, but this can’t be at the expense of patients, service or standards. We understand the NHS and can help it – and our private partners – to deliver more through smarter working”

Great to hear fighting talk but in my opinion O2 would do better to lead by example and let the world know about how it’s using innovative mHealth technologies and services to manage the healthcare needs of its thousands of staff and their families. Or how about some numbers on the use of mHealth services it’s offering through it’s customer portal?

“The issue of trust is a big one when it comes to healthcare, and this is where experience clearly counts (during his 18 years in the health sector Nurcombe spent five years at GlaxoSmithKline). “We need to deliver these solutions with credibility, which means we recognise that we are moving into a new market and our approach is very much crawl, walk, run, so we can demonstrate our credibility and gain trust. We’ll only get one bite of this cherry so we have to get it right first time,”

Let’s hope we never see any of the amateur URL manipulation coding issues that exposed O2 customer data when they launched Bluebook – their personal data hosting/backup service.

Ultimately it’s the last quote that I think is going to be the biggest barrier to initial collaboration between operators and health services:

“But O2 Health’s customers won’t always be the end users… some propositions … the operator will have a relationship with the local trust and will work in partnership with the NHS to deliver services. There will be more focus on prevention rather than cure, on health rather than illness”

This to my mind is where the disconnect starts. Before the NHS will commit it will want mHealth providers to prove the effectiveness of the initiative and their ability to manage it. Right or wrong, like it or not, the vast majority of the NHS’s $100 billion + budget is spent on treating illness and trying to cure or at least manage chronic disease. There is little sign of this changing in the next few years.

Is it the sceptic in me that thinks there will have to be more than “a focus on wearable devices, or self measurement – taking some ideas from the sports field and making them mass market” to get NHS decision makers to dedicate their budgets to O2 Health?

The article also reveals details on 2 mHealth trials that O2 is currently involved with NHS Trusts:

“…with East Berkshire NHS, O2 is trialling a service called Home Physio that is already in commercial use via Telefónica in Spain. This is a home based physiotherapy service using sensors that fit on the body along with a touch screen PC that shows patients how to do exercises and sends the info to the hospital to make sure it’s being done correctly”

My opinion? Save yourselves the trouble of a trial and get down the High Street to pick up a Nintendo Wii:

“O2 Health is also trialling a service called Side by Side in the Western Isles of Scotland where travel is often difficult for healthcare professionals as well as patients. This service, which is already in commercial use in Spain and the Canary Islands, allows patients and consultants to interact over video with the ability to share data”

Can’t find anything online about this, but it’s probably related to the Cisco HealthPresence system that we’ve recently seen being demonstrated to Cesar Alierta (CEO of Telefonica) and reported on my blog before here.

When small bootstrapped mHealth developers in Africa are able to push the boundaries with elegant videos of their mHealth innovations should we be expecting more of a technology powerhouse like O2?

About David Doherty

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1 Response to O2 reveal more on their mHealth plans

  1. Pingback: O2/Telefonica calls time on ‘O2 Health’ with expensive service give-away & product recall | mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

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