Global heavyweight telecom industry champions such as Vodafone, Nokia, HTC and AT&T are generally associated with communication strategies but at the Mobile World Congress 2013 (MWC2013), currently being held in Barcelona, Spain, since February 25, they are all speaking about mHealth – or the use of mobile technologies, devices and applications in the healthcare sector.
And several telecommunication brands are rushing to clinch deals and kick-start partnerships with medical and health companies to enter the medical arena.
An updated study by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), a cell phone industry organization representing around 800 of the world’s mobile operators in 220 countries, said that mobile-enabled and mobile-activated services will become integral to healthcare delivery by 2017, resulting in a global market worth approximately $23 billion.
GSMA also estimates that over 320 different medical apps of mobile technology are currently in use all over the world.
According to Pablo Mlikota, SVP, Caribbean & Latin America, Syniverse and Ian Ferguson, VP, Segment Marketing, ARM, who spoke at different seminars at the MWC2013, the use of mobile communication technologies and applications will make the world a better place by preventing diseases, reporting cases in real-time, providing timely assistance and the right resources to the right people at the right time. A good example of similar efforts was cited in the case of the aftermath of Haiti 2010 earthquake, which left more than 40,000 people lifeless and how these efforts helped stop the outbreak of diseases in some earthquake-hit areas.
mHealth is also in the limelight as a response to several pressures facing healthcare systems worldwide, according to Jeanine Vos, executive director of mHealth at the GSMA, who said that in the developed countries, ageing populations and rising charges of chronic disease are burdening overstretched healthcare systems, coinciding with the fact that more patients desire to take “a more active role in their health.”
Mobile is especially effective at monitoring patients, giving them scope to manage their health matters independently, and allowing for more efficient handling of patient data.
The scenario is different in the developing economies, where a shortage of health services creates big challenges. By making medical services more portable and accessible, Vos says mobile technology could play a key role in bringing healthcare to remote, underserviced areas.
Here’s my pick of the most innovative mHealth initiatives showcased or talked about at the World Mobile Congress (WMC2013):
AT&T Vitality GlowCaps: in brief, these pill containers tell you when it’s time to take your medicine. Healthcare providers always face the challenge of patients’ failure to take their prescribed medicine on time. These medicine bottle caps use mobile technology to encourage the patients to stick to their prescription routine. The caps illuminate and play ringtones when it is time to take medicine. In case of no response, the caps call or text the patient’s mobile phone to remind them. Every time the container is opened, it is recorded, which is periodically transmitted to attending medical staff or family members to monitor how far the patient adheres to their treatment regime.
Mobisante/MobiUS SP1 Ultrasound System: although ultrasound imaging is a vital diagnostic tool that can save lives, this technology is not accessible by around 70% of the world’s population, especially patients in developing countries. This device, which is a portable ultrasound probe pluggable into a smartphone, allows for handheld ultrasound imaging. And this means the technology is enabled to reach rural, remote areas in developing countries which may be miles away from clinics and healthcare centers, with a conventional ultrasound machine. The device developers say the scan images are transmittable via cell networks or WiFi.
Telenor home monitoring trial: This is about embedded mobile technology – a concept eventually encapsulated in the phrase “The Internet of Things,” in which devices and machines wirelessly communicate to help the elderly better live independently by just using sensors in the home to monitor for signs of distress or illness. This is not the end of the story. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology has included a fall detector, an e-pill dispenser, a moisture sensor for bed linen, an epilepsy alarm, and a GPS location detector. Triggering the alarm means sending a text to healthcare providers to do what they got to do.
SIMAP (Intelligent Personal Alert Monitoring System): Vodafone and the Spanish Red Cross designed this project to give Alzheimer’s patients confidence to live independently. For that, the patient is equipped with a mobile device with a GPS receiver, which updates its position every 3 minutes. And fantastically, the health providers can schedule the device to send them an alert if the patient goes beyond a pre-defined geographic area.