mHealth: Is It a Market?

I’ve been attending the mHealth Summit for the last 3 days and an over-arching theme has been: mHealth is unlikely to ever become a market in its own right.

Backing up this claim have been the countless projects/products being presented at this event with very few having a model that is scalable across a broad population base. There is also the issue of a lack of clear, repeatable and sustainable business models for mHealth. None have been laid bare for before all to see and learn from in any of the sessions I attended (maybe we are just very early in the evolution/adoption cycle). Likely 90% of the mHealth technologies presented at this conference have been funded by grants that are unsustainable (most often for pilot studies by academic institutions) making one wonder: Where’s the money? Where’s the scale? Where’s the opportunity? Again, circling us back to the title of this post…

Is there really a mHealth market?

This is the wrong question to ask.

The question is not whether or not there is an mHealth market, the question is: How will mobile technologies and devices change care delivery models? Mobile technology is not going away anytime soon and is simply becoming more and more a part of our daily lives, both personal and work related. It is rapidly becoming ubiquitous. Likewise, as I have said many times before, health does not occur when you are sitting in front of a computer, it is mobile, it is with you, it is you.

But the adoption of anything by anyone has to meet a fundamental requirement; it needs to deliver value to the adoptee and that is what events such as this need to spend more time circling back to, and unfortunately this one did not. There is also the issue of how to successfully adopt a technology to fully leverage its capabilities, e.g., how will work-flows change within a hospital if all physicians are using touch-tablets and how do we optimize new work-flow models to improve efficiency and quality of care delivered? Again, not a topic that was addressed at this event to a level of detail that would prove useful although the keynote address this morning by Harvard University’s School of Public Health Dean Dr. Frenk was very insightful and briefly touched upon this topic.

Unfortunately, the content of this event, which was heavily weighted to NGO-type speakers, far too many talking heads and far too few practioners (be they clinicians or consumers), was the likely culprit. Don’t get me wrong, the event was not a complete waste of time as there have been some great panelists and a few interesting presentations, but they were a very small minority. Hopefully by next year we (and the organizers of this event) will have heeded the sage advice of Sangita Reddy, Executive Director of Operations for Indian healthcare powerhouse Apollo Hospitals Group, and not focus so much on the policies and politics of mHealth but the opportunities and operational aspects of mHealth to improve the quality of life for all people.

It is time to roll-up our sleeves and just get to work. But do not leave leadership at the door. As Dr. Frenk pointed out at the end of his talk, strong leadership is needed to insure that mHealth reaches its true potential as it will be a disruptor. And with disruption, opportunity blooms.

John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.

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3 replies »

  1. We (http://beta.iValueHealth.NET) are a player in this area and focus on emerging markets (SE Asia & Africa). Our success and our learning is: If the service is going to be supported by Telecoms, they should focus much more on education than simply individual services. Education brings higher acceptance and adoption. It is important to have this change of mindset. Otherwise many efforts will put and they will go away once the buzz is gone. Cost optimisation, better treatement & reactivity, will come over time and this means the initiative will take between 2/3 years to show the good results.

  2. I was there too but experienced a different meeting. Maybe it was the choices of concurrent sessions but even some of the main presentations had more value than presented here. The field is young, there is justifiable skepticism and there are things to be done. In just one year the even has gone from 400 to 2,500 attendees. This says something about the field. You might check my blog post at http://blogs.rwjf.org

  3. This is one of the flaws of deconstructive thinking. You can’t really separate mHealth from Health. There is a big market for mHealth but it will be buried in both traditional and disruptive health services