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06.03.2015

Analysis of the global mHealth market: tools, barriers and objectives

Smartphones burst onto the market seven years ago, and tablets, four. The public’s acceptance of these mobile devices has spawned a new way of practicing medicine: Mobile Health. This new medical specialisation represents a great step forward in the detection, monitoring and treatment of diseases, but, like all new science, it must first pass through an adaptation and regularisation phase.

This and other topics were addressed at the “Global mHealth Marketplace and Innovation seminar, which, within the framework of the GSMA Mobile World Congress, was organised by the MWCB Foundation’s mHealth team. Various sector professionals, headed up by Joan Cornet, analysed the current status of mobile technological solutions applied to health, and reflected on the steps to be taken so that people worldwide can access them in an easy, fast and safe way.

As Joan Cornet indicated, the mHealth Marketplace is a very fast-moving market. In the United States alone 95 million citizens use mobile devices as health tools, and 70% use health or fitness applications on a daily basis. Many Americans, in addition, report that they would use medical apps more often if their doctors recommended them. Therefore, it is clear that, in the First World, the market is prepared to accept these types of solutions. The problem, however, is determining those which are most suitable, in the absence of regulations governing them. This legislation needs to address issues like the privacy of doctors’ and patients’ data, and safety in the implementation of each one of these processes. Currently, in the words of Roberto Ascione, president of Razorfish Healthware, there is a major debate with regards to the legitimacy of health apps. Although those that are reliable immediately stand out above the rest, some still wonder if they are really healthy.

Ascione explained that the next few years will be crucial for the consolidation of mHealth solutions: technological advances will make it possible to develop increasingly powerful, smaller and more affordable devices, progressing towards a future in which medical practices will transcend the barriers of hospitals and medical centres, making their way into homes. Chuck Parker, a director at Escentium Consulting  and vice-president at Personal Connected Health Alliance, sees the same trend. In the United States today there is a doctor for every 400 patients. If we look at countries like China or India, there is one for every 4,000. Therefore, if mobile health solutions become standardised and globalised, many of these patients would not need to go to the doctor all the time, as they would have access to a certified application to consult from home.

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Another advantage of the penetration of mHealth solutions into homes would be the long-term benefits they would yield for patients in relation to predictive analysis. Correct interpretation of data would make it possible to previously determine the development of different diseases, enabling early detection and adequate treatment. This data will be gathered not just through mobile applications, but also through wearables, or even “implantables” or “edibles”, devices that, once within the human body, would precisely report on the patient’s health. mHealth also includes a consideration of the use of printable patches that the patient would wear for just for a few days, until their problem subsides. In general the trend is towards devices that are less and less intrusive.

In relation to market globalisation, another one of the questions to be taken into consideration whenever a solution is developed is the need, from the very outset, to think about how it can be exported to different countries. This is the procedure that Yuri Quintana (PhD) recommended at Harvard Medical School. Right now mHealth solutions are still just being adopted, such that case studies are still lacking to consult for reliable information on what works and what does not in the same application in different countries around the world. This data is necessary to attract investors to a market that, in the long run, will provide benefits to both doctors and patients. The process for the establishment of a mobile solution is lengthy: it must be designed, developed, tested, and implemented. And maybe results will not always be good. In Quintana’s view progress must be made in the analysis of all these solutions if they are to be integrated into today’s healthcare system.

With regards to designing solutions, in addition, Olivia Vélez, with mHealth for Maternal Child Health, stressed the importance of listening to the people who are going to use them. After years of specialisation at clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa, Vélez stated that designing applications for the First World is very different from doing so for those who do not even know what a mobile phone looks like. In these cases, she explained, the most important thing is to interview all the people who are going to have access to the application – patients, doctors, nurses and caretakers – and determine with each of them what their needs are. Technology, in short, is for the user.

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Oscar García Pañella (ENTI Barcelona), Jordi Serrano Pons (Zero Mothers Die), HM Goh (WHO consultant mHealth Asia Pacific Region) and Yunkap Kwankam (Global eHealth Consultants) rounded out the list of speakers on an issue that will be much discussed in the coming years.

For all those interested in the market of mHealth solutions and their impact at the global level, Mobile World Capital and Harvard Medical School have signed an agreement to launch a preparation course on mHealth for both sector professionals and other types of users interested in the subject.