Emerging mHealth

screenshot_59Mobile healthcare (mHealth) is “the biggest technology breakthrough of our time [being used] to address our greatest national challenge”, said US Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius in her keynote address at the 2011 annual mHealth Summit in the Washington, DC area. Worldwide, the technology and its promise have moved up the healthcare agenda

This Economist Intelligence Unit report, commissioned by PwC, examines the current state and potential of mHealth in developed and emerging markets, the ongoing barriers to its adoption and the implications for companies in the field. Based on the research, the key findings include:

Expectations are high for mHealthRoughly one-half of patients surveyed for this report predict that mHealth will improve the convenience, cost and quality of their healthcare in the next three years (see “About the research”). Meanwhile, six in ten doctors and payers believe that its widespread adoption in their countries is inevitable in the near future. Yet most experts interviewed for this study, while also convinced that mHealth will eventually become an important part of care provision, expect that adoption will take time.

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Healthcare’s strong resistance to change will slow adoption of inno– vative mHealth. New technology is not enough. Widespread adoption of mHealth will require changes in behaviour of actors who are trying to protect  their interests. The challenge will be even greater for innovators because the improvements that mHealth can bring—such as patient-centred careand a greater focus on prevention—will involve disruption of how healthcare is provided. To succeed, innovators must manoeuvre through culturally conserva- tive, highly regulated and fragmented yet often monopolistic systems that often provide contradictory incentives.

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The diversity of interests at play makes an evolving landscape even more complex. Patients want more convenient provision of healthcare,but they also want greater control. For doctors, mHealth can help provide better patient care and ease their administrative headaches, but they are likely to resist the loss of power implicit in greater patient control. Payers already display interest in mHealth, and the economic pressure for more patient-centred, preventive care is likely to drive them further towards the patient’s viewpoint.

Solutions, not technology, are the key to success. Widespread mHealth adoption requires services and products that appeal to current payers because patients, highly sensitive to price, will provide little income. Consumers’ sense of entitlement with regard to health- care aggravates this price sensitivity. Accordingly, vendors must concentrate on solving payers’ problems. Technology is an essential, but not sufficient, tool in this endeavour.

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The doctor perspective: While patients are pushing for change in healthcare, our survey reveals doctors’ resistance to disruption of their traditional roles. Only 27% encourage patients to use mHealth applications in order to become more active in managing their health; 13% actively discourage this.

Indeed, doctors are averse to a funda- mental change to the patient’s role (and power): 42% of doctors surveyed worry that mHealth will make patients too independent.

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