Why mHealth isn’t “HealthCare Access Through Mobile Technology”

A client shared with me this Healthworks Collective post from Joan Justice asking if mHealth is the leverage of the newest mass media for Health what’s so wrong with the very different definition being used in this article:

mHealth”….. “mobile health”…….. what is it exactly? And how does it give patients access to better care? I like Dr. Ruchi Dass’s definition of mobile health: “Mobile health is not about healthcare and mobile phones; I think that’s a misconception. It’s healthcare that is available anytime, anywhere, wherever you need it, whenever you need it. It’s healthcare that can be accessed by whatever you have, be it your mobile phone, be it your television, your radio, or your iPod. That’s the kind of healthcare that we are talking about.” So mHealth, for me at least, is healthcare that you can access where and when you want it. And this field is exploding. I went to the mHealth Summit last year in Washington DC and was overwhelmed with all the lectures, discussion groups, exhibitors, and conversations. I will certainly attend again this year and I am ready to be even more overwhelmed!

Here are my thoughts:

1) Mobile Health is going to be a very confusing term if its “not about healthcare and mobile phones” in some shape or form. Perhaps Ruchi is trying to talk about some other type of more inclusive term like connected health etc but from reading this article I can’t help but think there’s a lack of appreciation of what patients actually have and their capacity to use it to connect to their sensitive personal needs:

It’s healthcare that can be accessed by whatever you have, be it your mobile phone, be it your television, your radio, or your iPod

If you’re uncertain about the pervasive distribution of mobile it’s well worth getting to understand some of the quality stats being shared by Tomi Ahonen (Forbes top 10 power influencer in Mobile). Before you even think about iPods consider how more people in the world are using a mobile than using a toothbrush and how for a big chunk of the worlds population (me included!) their mobile phone actually is their TV, Radio, iPod, Torch, etc

If you work with people who don’t appreciate the developing world opportunity for mobile please print out the following quote (from 2009) and post it on your office wall:

If you intend to communicate with prospective customers in the Developing World today, then you cannot think of mobile as the ‘fourth screen’ and consider possibly including it in your communication mix, as we still can think in the Industrialized World, as a luxury today. No, in the Developing World mobile is the first screen – and obviously, for as many as 1.8 billion people – one quarter of the planet – it is the ONLY screen. These 1.8 billion people do not have a PC, not a TV, not even FM radio, but they have a live, active mobile phone account. Out of all 3 billion people in the Developing World who have some kind of connection, a massive 60% have no other way to connect, than their mobile phone!

Again it’s quite old now (mobile moves very fast!) but here’s a helpful image to go with it showing how mobile is the ONLY DEVICE that breeches the digital divide and has MORE OWNERS in emerging markets:

2) In my opinion Ruchi’s definition fails to appreciate the massive capacity mHealth has to deliver preventative health services. In these healthcare isn’t made “available” or positioned so it’s there when patients “need it” (eg. pulled) but is actually pushed to patients. Okay today this isn’t a widespread phenomenum in today’s sickcare industry but the concept of this shift shouldn’t be too abstract as most of us remember the days when email worked the same way eg. before our BlackBerry’s vibrated we used to go to a computer, open it up and pull our messages down off the server.

Here’s an example of how we do that at 3G Doctor to give you the idea how this works for us:

When patients pay to use our service they share with us their Date of Birth. A few years ago I read some research showing how a birthday increased the interest an individual has in taking preventative health measures and making a positive change. It seemed simple enough to me to set up a system whereby we text patients on their birthday to wish them well and encourage them to have a General Health Check Consultation with us. The majority of customers we’ve offered this to have taken us up on the offer, it’s helped raise awareness of what our service can offer and it’s helped patients approach their healthcare with a preventative outlook. Whilst it’s hard to conceive and introduce such services and it’s very different to the pull service that we currently offer (eg. The Doctor Can See You Now) I think in 5 years time the vast majority of our business (powered by EHR’s like HealthVault) will be focused on proactive efforts like this.

For those interested I expand on some more of these opportunities in an Introduction to mHealth article that I wrote recently for Touch HealthCommunications

About 3G Doctor

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