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September 4, 2015

'mHealth' Means More Power For Consumers

Posted by Ravikiran Taire (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:37 AM

'mHealth' Means More Power For Consumers

There is a cultural struggle going on in the heart and soul of the global marketplace. Not since the years after World War II, when veterans began having children who later embraced rock-n-roll music (and annoyed their Big Band-loving parents), has such a distinct line been drawn between generations.

On one side are the older consumers who would never think of discussing very personal health matters via Skype with their physicians. They make appointments to go in and see their doctors face to face. On the other side: 'millennial' consumers who feel at ease being classified as 'self-directed patients.' We have boundless innovation in the field of mobile health technology (or 'mHealth') to thank for allowing healthcare providers to offer outpatient services for more people around the world. No longer do you have to go to the doctor's office and sit in a waiting room. The doctor will come to you via digital technology.

Recently, a new Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by PwC aimed to investigate the state of mHealth. The results were interesting to prognosticators who have for decades heralded a sea change in how patients receive healthcare, all thanks to advanced medical technology. For instance, about half of all respondents in the survey cited three factors - convenience, cost, and quality - as healthcare characteristics that stand to improve noticeably within as short a timeframe as three years. The survey also found that six in 10 doctors and, curiously, the same ratio for payers, believe that mHealth's widespread adoption in their countries will come sooner or later. Of course, inevitability doesn't always correlate with speed. Many of the survey's respondents said that widespread adoption of a mobile health culture could take significantly more time than just three years. Old habits, especially when it involves an industry as personal and private as healthcare, can die hard. The story of the connected digital world and the Big Data that it can harness and leverage affects every industry. But in no industry is the advancement of IT so transformative than in healthcare. According to the PwC report, doctors might resist certain aspects of mHealth because they think of themselves as not being in complete control and actually have to cede a certain amount to the patients they're treating.

With more control in the hands of the patients, the healthcare industry should expect to become far more proactive in the realm of preventive care - the kind of care that most appeals to patients - rather than the traditional reactionary methods that treat a condition after it has been diagnosed. Not surprisingly, what appealed to respondents the most about mHealth is its social network-style characteristics. Some 44 percent of respondents said that using a mobile phone to monitor their overall health statistics is a welcome part of mHealth. Then again, such consumers are already accustomed to connected health monitors like Fitbits.

It truly is the same generational divide that governs many other industries. Think about telecommunications - there's a generation that picks and chooses the music it streams on a pay-per-play basis, as opposed to those with an old cable box that allows them to switch through their television channels or buy LPs (that's an abbreviation for long-playing records for the uninitiated!).So the transformation will depend largely on the economics of how much it costs to prevent diseases, compared to how much it costs to treat them over the long-term. Economics also play a role in explaining why the emerging markets are going to serve as models for the developed world to follow. There are far fewer 'entrenched' parties and business models that necessitate a transformation in how medical care is delivered in remote villages and rural communities. Healthcare delivered via a mobile device is efficient, effective, and a complete game-changer in how patients in emerging markets receive care.

Another note from the PwC survey bears mentioning: technology isn't the key to success but rather a tool that enables patients and doctors alike. Achieving the adoption of mHealth on a global scale requires a paradigm shift in public perception. Hence, the great divide currently facing two major generations of patients: those that embrace the idea of digitally-enabled healthcare and those that are a bit wary of it. 
To achieve global scale, the report recommends that services and products must appeal to patients who are particularly sensitive to price. Using technology to deliver those products and services is just a conduit and not the overall solution. It's not unlike the conundrum that faced the media world; some consumers will pay for top-notch or proprietary content if the delivery method happens to be more expensive or it's a change from the way they've done things in the past. The consumer is in charge of the purchasing decision and governs the essence of the business model.

Indeed, when it comes to mHealth, the era of the self-directed, empowered patient is here.

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