This article is part of our special report Broadband: driving recovery?.
Despite Europe´s huge broadband coverage and smartphone use compared to the developing world, the continent is lagging in eHealth solutions because costing models do not encourage innovation, the leading global telecoms conference heard yesterday (27 February).
The findings emerged from a key session on health at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – the telecommunications industry´s largest annual gathering.
Experts on provision of eHealth solutions using smartphone applications said that they tried and tested their products in the developing world because billing for eHealth services directly using mobile payments is something better suited to those markets.
Silicon Valley is gone with the wind
“True innovation in mobile healthcare comes from emerging markets, whereas it used to be Silicon Valley, because real need is driving it, and telecommunications companies in emerging markets are really proving that,” George Held, the director of products at the telecoms company Etisalat, told delegates.
His Abu Dhabi-based company operates in 18 emerging markets with 170 million customers.
Don Jones, a vice president responsible for the Wireless Health market at Qualcomm Labs, said the need for eHealth solutions in the West was now pronounced, with pressure on European governments' unsustainable healthcare costs, and consumers more receptive to mobile phone services.
But he added that the traditional model of healthcare in the US and Europe, in which either the state or insurance companies pay for the provision of services to the medical community, provided less fertile ground for development of eHealth.
In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other developing countries, consumers are more willing to self-pay for medical services using mobiles.
eHealth on the verge of breakthroughs, not in Europe
Panellists said the telecoms industry in developed countries, where consumers are reimbursed or costs are paid directly by an insurer, face questions over their business models.
Mobile health solutions are on the verge of huge breakthroughs. Sailesh Chutani, chief executive of wireless health company Mobisant, told the panel that his company's smartphone app – the first mobile-phone ultrasound app to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration – is radically cutting infant mortality in Tanzania by enabling phone swipes to assess the safety of pregnancies.
Chutani told the panel that in the near future there would be an inexorable move toward home-based births presided over by lower-paid medical assistants – a system that could radically reduce mortality in developing countries. But the devices are more likely to find markets and innovations in the developing world, he said.
Richard Moore, an executive with the UK's National Health Service – a purely state-funded model – confirmed that although the UK is looking to develop its mobile health services, it would not consider direct mobile payments to health professionals.