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Mobile Health - cellular goes to the doctorBy Mike Joubert 24 July 2012 | Categories: news
Cellular technology is playing an increasingly important role in health systems across the globe. Dubbed mHealth (mobile health), the industry is now moving out of its infancy. But it’s not without teething problems.
For the second time in a row, Cape Town played host to the Mobile Health Summit (MHS), a global event staged by the mHealth Alliance and the GSMA (the same people who run the massive World Mobile Congress each year). The MHS brings together different stakeholders in the industry, this year focusing on the commercialisation and sustainability of mHealth projects.
What is mHealth?
mHealth can be described as the implementation of mobile technology to advance health and well-being throughout the world. It can be as simple as sending informative SMSes to pregnant mothers; health workers collect patients’ data using mobile phones; using SMSes to verify whether medicine is counterfeit; or remote monitoring of cardiac patients via cellular technology.
According to the GSMA, there are currently more than 340 commercially live projects and 150 pilots running. And it has the opportunity to grow much bigger, with the GSMA stating that by 2017 the mHealth market should have revenue opportunities in the range of $23 billion. In fact, Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile network operator, sees mHealth as one of its five focus areas for growth.
Unfortunately the industry is not without its teething problems, with many mHealth projects not being able to live and grow after initial funding is exhausted. At the MHS, many of these problems were discussed, amongst them a lack of quantifiable information on the savings brought about by mHealth; evidence of the success of projects; lack of alignment of implemented solutions with overall government strategy; and the fact that mHealth is also a very new field (the mHealth Alliance is only four years old).
Across the board it’s accepted that mHealth should not add any more strain to an already overburdened health care system. As such, profit for role players is imperative, and that includes the network and solution providers. Many speakers stated as much, including George Held, director of products and services at telecoms provider Etisalat Group, who was also critical of companies only involved to be able to release a feel-good press release. Held was adamant that there are many opportunities in mHealth which are ripe for the picking and that a “Just do it” attitude is definitely the right one.
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