mHealth in the UK: Paths for growth


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  • Sunil Patel, Health industries lead partner
  • Ralph Fernando - Health strategy
  • Stephen McMillan - Health technology

We believe that mobile health offers significant potential to transform the delivery of care, both in emerging markets and developed markets. Healthcare is one of the global challenges in terms of the rising cost and growing demand for health care across the world. Mobile health is an area that we have commissioned a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, to understand some of the barriers to adoption for mobile health as well as some of the different attitudes and perspectives of different stakeholders within the health care system.

Firstly Ralph, how do we define mobile health and what is driving this?

Well, we’ve defined mobile health or mHealth, as it is, as the provision of health care, of health related information for the use of mobile devices. So, that can range from telephone consultations or remote patient monitoring through to simple SMS patient texting. In terms of what’s driving that, I think there’s some key government drivers that are coming through now. Obviously, there is the recent release of the health and care information strategy, which is a big driver of that. But also, DH is considering the potential for GPs to potentially prescribe apps to patients and there is the Three Million Lives campaign as well. And I think from the patient perspective we’ve got to a certain point now where the penetration of smart phones - nearly 50% of the population own a smart phone - and their willingness to use that in a health related context is also growing.

And Stevie, I’d like to understand from a UK perspective, what are some of the barriers to adopting mobile health?

Barriers differ between the different stakeholders. So, if we look at patients and clinicians for example, the main barriers to adoption from patients are, first of all, lack of knowledge. Secondly, lack of relevant application and technology to their specific health needs. And probably - most importantly from a patient perspective - a perception that mHealth is very costly. Whereas, if we look at it from a clinician’s perspective lack of available technology, again, is repeated. Also, interestingly, lack of user interest. And then finally, issues around security and privacy.

So Ralph, from the research, give me some examples of where we are starting to see some early successes around mobile health, but also where we see the growing opportunities from a clinical perspective.

Well, certainly from a clinical perspective there are some examples that are already emerging. There is an NHS trust which has implemented a clinicians’ portal which enables clinicians to wirelessly access patient records, test results and even instigate discharges. Similarly, there are examples of midwives using digital pens to reduce the need for paperwork and follow up work. I think in terms of what the research is telling us what is going to happen going forward, there are three main areas of focus. The first of those is around administrative communication, so contact with the patient. Secondly, it’s telephone consultations and third, is remote patient monitoring.

So, those are all benefits for the clinician. Stevie, what do we see as the benefits for the patients?

Well, we’ve actually already seen a number of beneficial cases for patients who have used mHealth, and these range from patients accessing their own records in the GP surgery; accessing their care plans in care homes; accessing the test results in acute trusts. There is also the example of the use of webcams to provide signage services to deaf patients, right the way to COPD and diabetes patients being able to remotely post their results for viewing and usage by their carers. The challenge that I see here is that these tend to be small and local initiatives. The challenge is to roll these out far more widely.

Thanks Stevie. So Ralph, from a solution provider and solution supplier, what will we see?

I think there are a couple of things here that solution providers are focusing on. In the first instance its simple solutions. So, this may be just using SMS messaging and services to help enable reduction in cost. I think the second area has been around really reflecting the NHS’ needs currently; commissioners’ needs, currently - to have a short term ROI – maybe in year ROI and therefore offering solutions that offer that.

So that's going to challenge people’s business models, in terms of how they might construct their business models. So, to make this happen, what are our findings around the business models that people need to employ?

I think a key part of the business model question really is – how do you provide a solution that really meets NHS requirements about cost reduction, around quality enhancement, around focusing resources in the right areas? And you see examples of that already in some areas. For example, in cardiac rhythm management, where they are using remote monitoring to enable the face-to-face visits to be reduced and to increase the number of individual patients seen within one session, for example, to reduce cost. I think the second area is then really around providing an integrated solution here. Mhealth is not something that stands alone. It’s something that supports a wider pathway redesign and transformation of that pathway.

And then, Stevie, from a technology perspective, what needs to happen?

From my perspective the technology that needs to happen is already there. Right the way from the DH strategy, through the DH standards that have been developed, through the mHealth solutions that have been provided by mHealth providers and through some of the infrastructure that’s already been provided. However, providing all of these solutions and infrastructure will not facilitate widespread roll-out of mHealth. In order to do, that we need to address some of the barriers that we discussed earlier on.

Thank you Stevie and thank you Ralph. So in conclusion, we see mobile health having a signification impact on the delivery of care within the UK, and particularly, we see patients and clinical commissioners taking an active role in driving the adoption of mobile health, going forwards. Thank you.

mHealth is defined as the provision of healthcare or health-related information through the use of mobile devices - typically mobile phones, but also other specialised medical mobile devices, like wireless monitors.

In the UK, interest in mHealth from patients, carers, commissioners and healthcare providers has never been greater. The use of ‘apps’ and innovative technology in our everyday lives is now having a knock-on effect on how, potentially, people could use mobile devices including mobile phones and other specialised medical mobile devices, communicate and gather information on their care.

The latest Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report , commissioned by PwC, "Emerging mHealth: Paths for growth”, examines the current state and potential of mHealth in ten countries across developed and emerging markets (including the UK), the ongoing barriers to its adoption and the implications for companies in the field.