Electronic patient files, imaging diagnostics, electronic medical records, picture archiving and communications systems, home care, as well as self-diagnostics: The healthcare system has long since arrived in the Digital Age. The ever more intensive use of digital information will completely revolutionize the healthcare system as we know it.
According to the PwC study, “Emerging m-health: Path for growth“, already half of all German patients are convinced that mobile health (m-health) will improve the healthcare system with respect to costs and quality. Likewise, the main players in the healthcare system, such as doctors, health insurance funds, the pharmaceutical industry, med-tech companies and other stakeholders such as telecommunications and IT firms are evaluating the potential of mobile healthcare services and are searching for lucrative business models. Because despite great technological visions, the current level of implementation and distribution is falling short of the types of the opportunities envisioned just a few years ago.
The current situation in the field of m-health is characterized by a large degree of heterogeneity with respect to the aim and functionality of existing applications. Thus, there currently exist over 24,000 medical apps for mobile devices (essentially Phase 1 value-added services), which in the broadest sense are intended to improve medical care and are geared not only towards specialists in the healthcare field but also to patients. In this, the fields of application range from provision of healthcare-specific information, through so-called vital and health apps, on to facilitation of self-diagnosis and reminders to take medications, right down to support of the overall patient care process. It is striking, however, that the number of health apps dominates the market by far, and mobile solutions that facilitate the patient care process have only been implemented sporadically up to now.
This begs the question as to whether there is indeed a genuine and quantifiable added value for the various players in the healthcare system to utilize mobile technologies
This begs the question as to whether there is indeed a genuine and quantifiable added value for the various players in the healthcare system to utilize mobile technologies. Which business models of providers, health insurance schemes, pharmaceutical companies, med-tech firms or service providers such as telecommunications and software companies are imaginable and can close the gap between existing fields of application and fundamentally conceivable integrated solutions towards goal-driven treatment of patients along the entire value-added chain?
The FONTANE Project in northern Brandenburg is an innovative example for blanket-coverage introduction of m-health in the sense of an RHIO. Diverse stakeholders are working hand-in-hand here: health insurance funds, healthcare providers, as well as telecommunications and software companies. FONTANE is a telemedicine m-health-based early warning system for care of patients in rural areas who are suffering from severe cardiac insufficiency. In the scope of the project, which is embedded in a study running until 2015, participating patients at home are provided with scales and a blood pressure and ECG monitoring device. They use the devices to take measurements daily. The measured values are subsequently sent via a mobile phone link to a university clinic. In transmitting and utilizing this data, it is essential to adhere to strict data protection guidelines. In the university clinic, the received measurement data are stored and evaluated daily around-the-clock in an electronic patient history. In case of anomalies, a fine-tuned medical response is initiated.
This example manifests the fact that innovative and needs-oriented m-health solutions are possible in principle. Yet amid the many technological possibilities already in existence today, there is a need to evaluate what still remains a distant dream of tomorrow and what can be already realized today.
Successful m-health projects are mainly not those pursuing the most innovative idea. They are also seldom those with the state-of-the-art and unique adherence character. Because most projects fail shortly before they reach the finish line. Successful m-health projects pursue their objective in a clear governance structure and already take into account in the beginning any relevant pitfalls. Therefore, at an early stage, business cases need to be made plausible, feasibility checks carried out and compliance requirements taken into consideration. The main objective is not to achieve what is technically possible, but rather to develop long-term sustainable business models. The example concerning the usability on operating systems such as iOS and Android demonstrates that the market still has much to learn in this respect.
Furthermore, m-health projects without a solution focus or involvement of the users, whether it be healthcare professionals or patients, for example, cannot be successful in the medium to long term. Adherence and patient programs must ensure, for example, that they are tailored to the needs of the target group and that they provide value in everyday use. If you are not capable of clearly featuring the added value and solutions rather than merely offering technical gadgetry, you‘ll very quickly lose potential users.
Co-founder and Managing Partner, Peppermint Venture Partners
This blogpost is part of the Health Consumerism series. It was contributed by one of the speakers at MedTech Europe’s “European MedTech Forum 2014”. Follow #mtf2014 to be part of the conversation.