How can mobile reach its potential to improve both the outcomes and the economics of global health?
That’s the headline question for the panel I’m chairing on Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona.
MWC is an annual conference that celebrates progress with mobile technology. Last year, there were over 67,000 attendees, including:
- More than 12,000 mobile app developers
- 3,300+ press members representing 1,500 media outlets from 92 countries
- CEOs from more than 3,500 companies.
This year, a larger venue is being used, and the attendee numbers are expected to be even larger. Keynote speakers include the CEOs or Presidents from Vodafone, Telefonica, China Mobile, AT&T, Telecom Italia, NTT DoCoMo, Korea Telecom, Deutsch Telekom, Qualcomm, Nokia, General Motors, CNN Digital, American Heart Foundation, Bharti Enterprises, Qtel, Ericsson, Viber Media, Juniper Networks, Dropbox, Foursquare, Deezer, Mozilla, Ubuntu, Tizen, Jolla, and countless more.
And in the midst of all that, there’s a panel entitled Health: Achieving Scale through Partnerships - which, in my role as Technology Planning Lead for Accenture Mobility, I’ve been asked to chair.
MWC as a whole generates a lot of excitement about mobile technology – and about relative shifts in the competitive positions of key companies in the industry. However, it strikes me that the subject under discussion in my panel is more profound. Simply put, what we’re discussing is a matter of life and death.
Done well, mobile technology has the potential to enable the delivery of timely healthcare to people who would otherwise be at risk of death. Prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment can spell the difference between a bitterly unpleasant experience and something that is much more manageable.
But more than that: mobile technology has the potential to address very significant financial problems in the delivery of healthcare. Runaway medical bills impact individuals around the planet. According to a 2010 report by the World Health Organisation (PDF):
When people use healthcare services, they often incur high, sometimes catastrophic costs in paying for their care.
In some countries, up to 11% of the population suffers this type of severe financial hardship each year, and up to 5% is forced into poverty. Globally, about 150 million people suffer financial catastrophe annually while 100 million are pushed below the poverty line.
It’s not just individuals who are facing ruinous costs from healthcare. A 2011 study by the World Economic Forum and Harvard University anticipates that productivity losses and medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease and other non-contagious chronic diseases will cost economies $47 trillion by 2030. In the UK, the growing cost of treating diabetes alone is said to be likely to “bankrupt the NHS in 20 years”. In countries around the world, surging costs of healthcare treatment are exceeding the growth rates of the national economies.
In principle, mobile technology has the potential to reduce these trends in a number of ways:
- By enabling more cost-effective treatments, that are less time-consuming and less personally intrusive
- By enabling earlier detection of medical issues: prevention can be much cheaper than cure!
- By monitoring compliance with treatment regimes
- By improving real-time communications within busy, geographically separated teams of clinicians
- By reducing barriers for people to access information relevant to their health and well-being.
Here, the key phrase is “in principle”. The potential of mobile technology to beneficially transform healthcare has long been recognised. Success stories can indeed be found. This recent NBC news video featuring physician Eric Topol contains some excellent examples of the use of smartphones in medical practice; for my review of Dr Topol’s award-winning book “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” see my previous blogpost Smartphone technology, super-convergence, and the great inflection of medicine. Nevertheless, the mobile industry is full of people who remain unsure about how quickly this potential can turn into a reality.
Indeed, I regularly encounter people in the mobile industry who have been assigned responsibility in their companies for aspects of “mHealth programmes”, or similar. The recurring refrain that I hear is as follows:
- The technology seems to work
- Small-scale pilot trials demonstrate encouraging results
- But it’s hard to see how these trials can be scaled up into self-sustaining activities – activities which no longer rely on any strategic subsidies
- Specifically, people wonder how their programmes will ever deliver meaningful commercial revenues to their companies – since, after all, these companies are driven by commercial imperatives.
In this sense, the question of scaling up mobile health programmes is a matter of commercial life-or-death for many managers within the mobile industry. Without credible plans for commercially significant revenues, these programmes may be cut back, and managers risk losing their jobs.
For all these reasons, I see the panel on Wednesday as being highly relevant. Here’s how the MWC organisers describe the panel on the event website:
There are hundreds of live and pilot mHealth deployments currently underway across many and diverse territories, but many of these projects, both commercial and pilot, will remain short term or small scale and will fold once initial funding is exhausted.
To reach scale, mHealth systems must in many cases be designed to integrate with existing health systems. This is not something the mobile industry can achieve alone, despite operators’ expertise and experience in delivering end-to-end services to their customers, and will require strong working partnerships between mobile network operators, health applications and health IT providers.
Speakers in this session will draw upon their own experience to showcase examples of mHealth projects that have gone beyond the small scale and pilot stages.
They will seek to identify best practice in making mHealth sustainable, and will discuss the progress and challenges in partnering for mHealth.
The panellists bring a wealth of different experience to these questions:
- Pamela Goldberg is CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), an economic development engine charged with charged with catalyzing technology innovation throughout the Massachusetts Commonwealth. She has an extensive background in entrepreneurship, innovation and finance, and is the first woman to lead the agency in its nearly 30 year history. MassTech is currently advancing technology‐based solutions that improve the health care system, expand high‐speed Internet access, and strengthen the growth and development of the state’s technology sector.
- Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director for the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), where she manages a cross-sector partnership between USAID, Johnson & Johnson, the UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter. MAMA is focused on engaging an innovative global community to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones. She recently co-lead the Ashoka Global Accelerator, focused on getting mid-stage social entrepreneurs in developing countries the support & resources they need to scale their work across multiple countries and continents. These organizations are focused on using innovation and technology to address global health issues. She recently spent a year living in Ghana, where she was the Country Director for the Grameen Foundation and managed a large-scale mobile health project focused on maternal and child health across Ghana.
- Chris Mulley is a Principal Business Consultant within the Operator Solutions department of ZTE Corporation. He is responsible for the analysis of market and business drivers that feed into the development of cost-effective end-to-end solutions, targeted at major global telecom operators, based on ZTE’s portfolio of fixed-line and wireless infrastructure equipment and ICT platforms. A key part of this role involves informing ZTE Corporation’s strategic approach to the provision of solutions that meet the objectives of the European Commission Digital Agenda for Europe policy initiative for the wide scale adoption of ICT in the provision of e-Health, e-Transport and e-Government across Europe. Chris was instrumental in the establishment of an e-Health collaboration between ZTE Corporation, the Centro Internazionale Radio Medico and Beijing People’s Hospital.
- Tong En is Deputy General Manager of the Data Service department and Director of the R&D center at China Mobile Communications Corporation (CMCC), JiangSu Company. He has long been engaged in the research of mobile communication and IoT related technologies, and has chaired or participated more than 10 CMCC research projects. He is a multiple winner of CMCC innovation awards, and has published nearly 20 academic papers.
- Oscar Gómez is Director of eHealth Product Marketing in Telefónica Digital, where he leads the creation and implementation of a Connected Healthcare proposition to help transform Health and Social Care systems in the light of the challenges they are facing. Oscar has global responsibility over Telefonica’s portfolio of products and solutions in the eHealth and mHealth space. Oscar holds an Executive MBA from Instituto de Empresa, a M.Sc. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and a Diploma in Economics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He graduated in Healthcare Management from IESE in 2012.
In case you’re interested in the topic but you’re not able to attend the event in person, you can follow the live tweet stream for this panel, by tracking the hashtag #mwc13hlt1.
Although I passionately believe in the significance of this particular topic, I realise there will be many other announcements, debates, and analyses of deep interest happening at MWC. I’ll be keeping my own notes on what I see as the greatest “hits” and “misses” of the show. These notes will guide me as I chair a “Fiesta or Siesta” debrief session in Cambridge in several weeks time. Jointly hosted by Cambridge Wireless and Accenture, on the 12th of March, this event will take place in the Møller Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge. As the event website explains,
Whether you attended Mobile World Congress (MWC), or you didn’t, you will have formed an opinion (or read someone else’s) on the key announcements and themes of this year’s show. “MWC – Fiesta or Siesta?!” will re-create the emotion of Barcelona as we discuss the hits and misses of the 2013 Mobile World Congress, Cambridge Wireless style…
Registration for this “Fiesta or Siesta” event is now open. Knowing many of the panellists personally, I am confident in predicting that sparks will fly in this discussion, and we’ll end up collectively wiser.