Healthy opportunities in the m-health sector

Opportunities in the global mobile healthcare market are estimated to be worth between $50bn and $60bn in 2010, prompting operators to step up their initiatives in this emerging sector.

The figures come from a global market survey from management consultancy McKinsey & Company, and suggest that mobile health (m-health) opportunities in 2010 could be worth $20bn in the US alone.

To test consumer demand for m-health services, McKinsey conducted a global market research survey of 3,000 consumers in six countries (500 each in Brazil, USA, Germany, South Africa, India and China). The findings indicate that a large proportion of the four billion people using mobile phones today struggle to gain access to good quality and affordable healthcare, both in emerging markets and more developed societies.

According to the research, almost 70 per cent of respondents were extremely or very interested in at least one m-mealth product, with Indian and South African consumers having the highest levels of interest (40-60 per cent across all products). However, US consumers expressed high levels of interest in PhoneDoctor (60 per cent) and HealthWatch (35 per cent) services.

Willingness to pay for such services was also surprisingly high for several products across geographies, with Indian customers willing to pay ten times airtime rates, and US consumers 20 times airtime rates to be able to speak to a doctor via PhoneDoctor. Brazilian and Chinese consumers meanwhile were willing to pay equivalent to a new mobile phone subscription for HealthWatch.

These two sectors – PhoneDoctor and HealthWatch – were found to hold the greatest opportunities, with almost 50 per cent of the market opportunity likely to be captured by connected biosensor devices, representing almost $30bn of incremental opportunity globally. HealthWatch services might include a SIM embedded biosensor watch that monitors vitals, and is connected to the emergency services. PhoneDoctor, which was estimated as a $10bn global market opportunity, allows customers call to speak with a qualified physician for remote diagnosis and advice.

“Mobile healthcare is clearly an opportunity to improve healthcare, manage costs and at the same time drive growth. We believe it is something that mobile operators, hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, technology players, health insurance companies and governments too should all be looking at closely,” said Alessio Ascari, director at McKinsey’s Milan office.

Key m-health sectors
PhoneDoctor call to speak with a qualified physician for remote diagnosis & advice
Drug Delivery customers order medications over the phone for last mile delivery of authentic drugs within 24 hours
Health Watch a SIM embedded biosensor watch that monitors vitals, and is connected to emergency services
Med Reminder customers receive periodic SMS reminders to follow a prescribed medication routine
Source: McKinsey & Company

Vodafone, a founding member of the mHealth Alliance, already has an m-health initiative up and running and Orange recently announced that it too had joined the Alliance – a partnership which uses mobile technology to improve public health and patient care in the developing world.

Orange said it will work on projects focused in West Africa, where it has a mobile presence, including Botswana, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina-Faso and Mali.

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While last week, O2 UK appointed Keith Nurcombe, a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline, to head up its new mobile healthcare division. The new department will launch in May and will examine and develop m-health and M2M initiatives that could be applied to Telefonica’s operations in Europe and Latin America.

Mike Short, vice president of public affairs at Telefonica O2 Europe, recently spoke to about the future of the mobile operator, and said that m-health would be a main focus going forward. ”

If you look at healthcare, national health services cannot deliver all the care we need. It will cost a fortune and, with the ageing population in Europe, there are not enough carers. So we need new ways of looking at healthcare and an understanding of how communications can help these evolve, We think there will be more focus on prevention rather than cure, on health rather than illness. That means wearable devices, or self measurement. It’s about taking some ideas from the sports field and making them mass market,” Short said.

Click for information on Informa’s second Mobile Healthcare Industry Summit, to be held in London, September 2010

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