CNN: “Mobiles and medicine: The brave new world of mHealth”

This high profile CNN article from reporter Tim Hume at Mobile World Congress provides a fascinating insight into how confusing healthcare is to the mobile industry.

AT&T and Vodafone are names we generally associate with calling plans rather than with healthcare. But with the rise of “mobile health” — the use of mobile communications technology in healthcare — some of the world’s best-known telecoms brands are partnering with health-sector companies to enter the medical fray

It might sound exciting and cool if we pretend everything is cutting edge and brand new but as I’ve outlined before this is a common misconception and the mobile industry isn’t helping itself by promoting this viewpoint.

Healthcare was historically mobile and is not a new business for mobile. In many ways it seed funded the industry and we can see evidence for this by looking at the big brands that are members of the GSMA. Many formed from the evolution of paging businesses (eg. AT&T and Metromedia) and very important early customers (for these pagers as well as their first mobile phones) were healthcare workers. I know this very well because that’s why I had a pager and then a mobile phone in 1995 and started sending SMS soon after – a time when people who weren’t working in healthcare would ask you completely seriously “what use is that?”

In my opinion the mobile industry would fare better if it reminded people of this important legacy – a point of view that I outlined in this 2009 article.

MHealth has arisen as a response to a number of pressures facing healthcare systems around the world, says Jeanine Vos, executive director of mHealth at the GSM Association

I think it has got a lot more to do with it’s ability to collapse time and space. The Marconi room on the Titanic (that saved hundreds of lives on the stricken liner only months after the invention of wireless) wasn’t installed due to pressures on global healthcare systems. Similarly your Doctor, Nurse and Emergency Medical Service providers didn’t buy a smartphone or an iPad and a data plan for use at work because of these long term societal trends.

Continuing on the theme where you try and suggest everything mHealth is cutting edge and brand new the article ends by profiling mHealth devices and services that have yet to become available or be expanded beyond small pilots including:

AT&T’s Vitality GlowCaps (a product that still hasn’t appeared for sale – despite claims more than 12 months ago from AT&T that they had been put on sale on Amazon for $10 each)

Mobisante’s Mobile Connected Ultrasound System (a conventional USB ultrasound probe that is connected to an app that only runs on an obsolete Windows 6.5 Smartphone and costs about the same as GE Medical’s V-Scan which is a similar dedicated device offering the full support of the worlds medical imaging giant – read my review of this here)

Vodafone’s SIMAP (Intelligent Personal Alert Monitoring System) (a project in Spain that despite it’s huge support and the massive scale of the need in Spain – where there are ~2 million patients with Alzheimers – it involves only a small number of units that are being loaned out to patients)

Dexcom’s Seven Plus Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) system (a product that doesn’t yet actually connect to a mobile network)

Back to Reality

In my opinion the mobile industry should be more careful about how it communicates mHealth to the media so that we don’t have a situation developing in which we crowd out appreciation of the truly scaled success stories and replace it with some hopeful tales about what could or might be in store in a few years.

If you need to review some mHealth success stories here’s a few posts I’d recommend to get you started:

> Successful mHealth services are here already

> Kaiser Permanente’s CEO has announced that their new mHealth initiative has been used by 11% of their total patient population in the first month. That’s Zero to 1 million patients in 1 month – the fastest ever adoption of a new digital health service in history.

> Nearly 2 million rural births in Bangladesh will be attended in 2012 by a healthcare worker because of SMS.

> Highlight the success of mobile adoption by senior audiences in the Japanese market where the telco initiatives have focused on “Respect for Senior Citizens Day”. This was the first market in the world to have a senior mobile (the Panasonic P601es in 1999), a market where everyone today is using 3G, more than 90% of those aged 60+ use mobile data services and more than 50% use mobile email and the “Raku-Raku” (simple/easy) mobiles are a Billion dollar market. It’s particularly interesting from a healthcare perspective when you appreciate that mobile data service adoption by seniors in Japan made it possible for the country to switch off public access to voice networks so that it wasn’t congested and could support emergency response team communications during their recent Tsunami/Earthquake disaster (click here for more on how society can use mobiles in emergencies).

> The mobile connected Smoke Detector/Alarms that are changing the lives of disabled patients by granting new levels of independence and the mobile connected home monitors that are transforming communication and monitoring for independently living adults.

> Tanzanian Doctors put donor funds to good use with mobile payments.

> Learn about the benefits of SMS patient appointment reminders for improving the efficiency of Hospital services or how small SMS companies like iPlato are working with NHS GP clinics to improve patient response rates by 600% by replacing expensive posted letters with SMS (this was back in 2007!)

> The mobile medical libraries that are getting top spots in the App Stores and ensuring Doctors, Pharmacists and Nurses have the latest text book and pharmaceutical data at their fingertips. Adoption is also a nice money maker for mobile operators eg. in 2010 Leeds medical school paid O2 UK £200,000 for a few iPhones with a years supply of content and there are more than 30 other medical schools in the UK.

> The Digital Pen solution being used by the midwives at Portsmouth NHS Trust that paid for itself in a few months and has transformed the way community midwives work – freeing up hundreds of extra hours for them to care for patients.

> Doro easy to use mobiles: uncompetitive devices that in 2010 were making France Telecom an extra €22 million per annum by connecting seniors and selling them VAS’s

> The AloDoktorum service that has been launched by Avea in Turkey. This service (that was styled on 3G Doctor) has already released figures that suggest if a Telco like Verizon offered it in the USA they could add another $600 million to their bottom line.

> There were also a wide range of mHealth technologies and services that are detailed in the comprehensive Guide to mHealth I compiled for this years Mobile World Congress.

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