Who’s pushing back on the term “mHealth” and why?

The following video of Rob McCray, President and CEO of the Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, in reply to the question “What is mHealth” at the mHealth session at the CTIA’s “Mobile Con” event (with the US Mobile industry’s form for bill shock and overcharging hasn’t that got to be the worst possible name the CTIA could give to their annual meeting?) gave me some thoughts:

Because your question was ‘What is mHealth’, I’ve been pushing back on mHealth as a term since I first heard it in 2006 I think from one of my former colleagues. You know “Wireless Health” which is what we call it because we were Qualcomm and JnJ sponsored when we started, mHealth, Mobile Health, Digital Health all of that stuff goes away, it’s the integration, it doesn’t matter the technology there are certain values, features that we want, we want to have mobility as a feature for our needs at sometimes and in many situations and Wireless of course gives that to you, erm, so I’ll take this to another level it’s not about patients its’ about citizens it’s about consumers it’s about Health. And this is the interesting thing about this whole space. What we as users want isn’t mHealth care or healthcare at all we just need that at times to get back to what we want which is health, so the abstraction here is to use these tools these technologies to create platforms that actually allow you to take better care of yourself ahead of time

My thoughts:

Of course to some the idea that Healthcare is facing a “Wireless Health” or a “mHealth revolution” is meaningless, but for me it’s fascinating that there’s a “special purpose trade organization for innovators, globally relevant companies, scientists, physicians, and policy makers” that has been pushing back against the adoption of mHealth for the last 6 years is quite fascinating.

Why are Qualcomm and JnJ trying to encourage Rob to get people talking about “Wireless Health”?

Qualcomm might sell Wireless technology to their customers but end users refer to their SnapDragon chips etc as just a key part of their “mobile” not something that is “wireless”. I watched Qualcomm’s Chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs talking on CNBC earlier this week and he didn’t mention “Wireless” (he did of course say “Mobile Health” and “Mobile Technology”) – also worth reading: “Qualcomm’s Jacobs: Mighty Payoff to Mobile Medicine”. Surely there’s some outdated basic communication error going on here as their biggest customers are the world’s top “mobile” brands like Apple and Samsung and the healthcare providers they are working with are talking about “Mobile First” strategies (not “Wireless First”).

What do JnJ care for? So far the vast majority of their mHealth initiatives have been over-the-top of mobile operators eg. collaborations with Apple, Apps that are distributed through Google or Apple App Stores. Their initiatives in emerging markets might be collaborating with telcos (eg. their Janssen HIV programmes in India) but in these markets I’ve never heard them referring to mHealth initiatives as “Wireless” eg. in their Economist IU paper on the Future of Healthcare Wireless was never mentioned.

Why haven’t we got “Wireless Money” or “Wireless Voting”?

Obviously as money and banking converge to mobile it’s very obvious that no one’s calling it “Wireless” eg. Vodafone/Safaricom’s mPesa where “Pesa” is the Swahili word for “cash” or “money”.

What about the preventative opportunity?

For me Rob’s missing the big challenge because he thinks people want “health” when actually a lot of poor decisions are made because individuals aren’t thinking about it until they don’t want to be “ill”. Anyone who’s tried to drive preventative health initiatives will have realised this because you’re literally up against a whole raft of commercial products that are vying to provide customers with products and in most cases they don’t have to even pay heed to any of the stops and checks that impede on healthcare marketers eg. only a very small proportion of the millions of people who are having unplanned casual unprotected sex this weekend will be thinking about “health” and so mHealth presents incredible opportunities to change this (eg. distribution of adult content by mobile operators that does not show unsafe sexual practices (in 2012 these provide an important role in the sex education of many young people), the condom ringtone from 2008, etc).

The need to appreciate Mobile as “the newest mass media” not a single feature it offers like “mobility”

When I heard Rob mention that “we want to have mobility as a feature for our needs at sometimes and in many situations” it seems clear that he’s not appreciating mobile as the newest mass media. The importance of this recognition is key as it’s through appreciation of this that the opportunities can be visualised.

I think it’s key that we don’t consider “mHealth” to be the “mobility of Health” but rather “the leverage of Mobile for Health, where Mobile is the newest Mass Media and Health is the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being

So what will catch on: Wireless Health or mHealth?

When all’s said and done it’s not going to be a difference of opinion between individuals that will determine what will catch on it’s the enthusiasm of patients, carers, Medical Professionals and healthcare brands that will be the ultimately decide on this.

It’s interesting to note that the event organised by the CTIA (“The Wireless Association”) that Rob was speaking at even referred to the subject area as mHealth:

It’s interesting to see that as the Wireless Life Science Alliance annual conference attendance drops and exhibitors/sponsors become fewer the mHealth Summit that takes place in Washington DC next month goes from strength to strength (growing from 100 delegates in 2008 to more than 5000 in 2012). As the healthcare industry starts to capitalise on the abundance of opportunities mobile has already created for us (see this link for a general introduction to mHealth) I think it’s obvious that six more years of pushing back is futile and perhaps it’s time for the Wireless Life Science Alliance to follow their former partner’s leads (eg. their founding partner Qualcomm Life used to be “Qualcomm Wireless Life” and West Health used to be “West Wireless Health”) and drop the word “Wireless”?

3 thoughts on “Who’s pushing back on the term “mHealth” and why?

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