Let’s nip this myth in the bud: Mobile Operator Dominance Hindering mHealth Innovation

Over at MobileStorm’s Digital Marketing Blog Samantha Rose has authored a piece outlining how Mobile Operator Dominance” is “Hindering mHealth Innovation:

In order for mHealth to reach its full potential, it needs to be able to work on any mobile network or device, in any location, worldwide. Within the developed world, mobile carrier control and healthcare regulations place restrictions on innovation in mHealth.
However, the absence of both of these phenomena in the developing world allows us the opportunity to observe its potential when these restrictions are absent. In this setting, healthcare providers are able to use mobile communication as a cost-effective means of communicating with patients across a long distance about important health related information.
In order to reach this widespread success, changes need to be made within our mHealth initiatives.
Currently, mHealth innovation is dominated by mobile service providers, as evidenced at the convening of the first GSMA-mHA Mobile Health Summit in Cape Town, South Africa from June 6-9, 2011. During this event, leaders from the mobile and health sectors met to discuss the technology and strategies that are needed to increase the distribution and utilization of mobile healthcare services worldwide.
While this partnership was necessary to launch mHealth during its initial stages, the long-term interests of the healthcare industry and mobile operators are not compatible. This is due to the fact that the control imposed by mobile operators can have a stifling affect on the competition between healthcare application developers.
Therefore, in order to reach its full potential and a maximum number of people, control over mHealth needs to be removed from the grasp of mobile carriers so that it will be able to work on any network, worldwide.
In a new environment that is free from mobile operator dominance, healthcare application developers and groups within the healthcare industry who have an experience-based understanding of mHealth can step forward and drive mHealth towards a reality that is not restricted to specific mobile service carriers and is truly boundary free

On a point by point basis here’s why I think this is misleading:

In order for mHealth to reach its full potential, it needs to be able to work on any mobile network or device, in any location, worldwide

I disagree. Rather than the focus being to run anywhere I think mHealth needs to engage patient trust and confidence. In the UK over the last few weeks the public has experienced first hand the multitude of very serious issues that can arise from insecure mobile voicemail and customer databases.

Imagine if patients had been using these “work anywhere” voicemail accounts to handle their sensitive medical information? Can you imagine the long term damaging impact such an abuse of power would have had on patients interest in engaging digitally with their health information?

All too often in a desire to make things work easily technologists overlook the importance of security and privacy, over time this oversight can lead to an outcome that is not conducive to wider adoption of the technology. If you disagree with me on this please ask someone in the UK today if they think mobile voicemail is secure or if they plan on using it more.

In order to reach this widespread success, changes need to be made within our mHealth initiatives. Currently, mHealth innovation is dominated by mobile service providers, as evidenced at the convening of the first GSMA-mHA Mobile Health Summit in Cape Town, South Africa from June 6-9, 2011

Whilst it’s no surprise that this event itself was dominated by mobile service providers (it was after all organised by the GSMA – the mobile industry trade association) I fail to see how one of the sixty two (and counting!) mHealth events that will take place in 2011 justifies a conclusion that “mHealth innovation is dominated by mobile service providers”.

While this partnership was necessary to launch mHealth during its initial stages, the long-term interests of the healthcare industry and mobile operators are not compatible. This is due to the fact that the control imposed by mobile operators can have a stifling affect on the competition between healthcare application developers

Some broadly sweeping statements that I completely disagree with. Whilst Samantha isn’t clear about what the respective “long term interests” actually are, I fail to see how they are strikingly incompatible. Whilst I can see that mobile (the newest mass media) will be able to cannabalize some of the expensive solutions we have in today’s sickcare industry most of it will just be making redundant the countless already dead business models (sending letters through the post, keeping rooms full of inaccessible patient records, paying for surplus middlemen, etc). But when we realise the reality of our growing healthcare costs, aging populations, the extent of the global debt crisis and the urgent need we have to control wasteful spending and deliver more value to patients I think it’s going to become increasingly obvious that the mobile industry is actually a very well aligned partner for those in the healthcare industry that want to achieve improvements.

Therefore, in order to reach its full potential and a maximum number of people, control over mHealth needs to be removed from the grasp of mobile carriers so that it will be able to work on any network, worldwide

I disagree with this point for several reasons but the most important is the assumption that mobile operators have “control”. Communities Dominate Brands and as mobile operators vie with one another to take control of our wallets (via mMoney) they’re going to be increasingly vulnerable to customer ratings and support. Of course in certain countries where there is a monopoly provider there will be issues but even in these instances there are (and will be many more) lessons for the rest of the world (eg. RIM/Saudi Arabia).

I think we also have to be very clear: I think it’s counterintuitive for the mHealth industry to be championing to have it’s services to run on “any network worldwide” as lots of networks aren’t designed for this use case eg. it’s obviously a very bad idea running sensitive medical information on public/insecure networks.

Rather than a hinderance Mobile operators can add immense value to mHealth by:

> introducing mHealth to consumers
> enabling consumers to pay for mHealth (which will drive 99% of all successfully adopted mHealth innovations)
> enabling the priority (eg. ABC – always best connected) of mHealth services
> enhancing the privacy of mHealth data exchange
> educating governments on the why and best way to mobilise it’s healthcare strategy eg. data portability etc
> Sponsoring thought leadership and networking for the mHealth industry

In a new environment that is free from mobile operator dominance, healthcare application developers and groups within the healthcare industry who have an experience-based understanding of mHealth can step forward and drive mHealth towards a reality that is not restricted to specific mobile service carriers and is truly boundary free

When you understand that ~80% of the revenues in the mobile industry are made by mobile operators, SMS and MMS revenues exceed the TOTAL App Store opportunity by a factor of 40-to-1 and 11-to-1 respectively, and there are 5 billion people who have a mobile subscription but have never heard of mHealth I think it’s obvious that referring to the biggest potential firestarter for this revolution as a hinderance is very counterproductive…

About 3G Doctor

The Corporate Blog of 3G Doctor
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