Emerging mHealth: Paths for Growth

Report cover: Emerging mHealth Paths for GrowthIn this 44-page market research report from PwC (formerly Pricewaterhouse Cooper), patients, doctors and payers share their sometimes-conflicting views on mHealth. We provide highlights below.

We live in a world that’s connected wirelessly with almost as many cellular phone subscriptions as there are people on the planet. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were almost 6 billion mobile phones in use worldwide in late 2011. The ubiquity of mobile technology offers tremendous opportunities for the healthcare industry to address one of the most pressing global challenges: making healthcare more accessible, faster, better and cheaper.

Several factors effect how mHealth care will be provided, including:

  • The ubiquity and personal nature of mobile devices;
  • The very nature of always-in-touch mobility; and
  • Competition that will increase functionality and drive lower prices.

Expectations versus reality

Expectations for mHealth are high. Six of 10 doctors and payors (insurance companies) believe that rapid and widespread mHealth adoption in their countries is inevitable. And health consumers expect that mobile technology will quickly transform costly healthcare systems and make them less expensive (46%), higher quality (48%), and more convenient (52%), as well as more personalized, predictive, preventive and participatory.

% of respondents who say that, in the next 3 years, mHealth will significantly change:

Bar chart showing how patients expect mHealth to change their healthcare experience

But obstacles to that vision will slow adoption and include security & privacy concerns and healthcare’s strong resistance to change. As noted in Dr. Topol’s article on Medicine Unplugged, “patient empowerment – through their phones, their DNA, their data, and remote access to their providers – will dramatically change the very core of medicine today, creating new opportunities while disrupting old models.” So it’s natural that some doctors resist the loss of power implicit in greater patient control.

Of the doctors surveyed, 42% worry that mHealth will make their patients “too independent.” Only 27% encourage patients to use mHealth to better manage their health, while 13% actively discourage this. The numbers are even worse for younger physicians who may have a better sense of how disruptive tech innovations can be, and who feel more sensitive and vulnerable because of their junior positions.

Healthcare is perhaps “the most entrenched, change-averse industry in the US.” — Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and author of The Innovator’s Prescription, where he discusses the need for disruptive change in healthcare and the challenges in getting it.

The highly regulated nature of healthcare also hinders innovation. We need health reforms to catch up with technology and strike a balance between safety & privacy on one hand and rapid & widespread adoption on the other.

The early adopters

Interestingly, the study found that emerging markets are the trail-blazers of mHealth since they generally have an overwhelming need for disruptive change and fewer entrenched interests to stand in the way.

% of patients who are familiar with the term “mHealth” (or mobile  health)

Pie chart showing Patients Familiar with mHealth (developed versus emerging markets)

Emerging markets have far fewer physicians per patient – sometimes less than one doctor per 4,000 people – so their problem is more acute. That’s why mobile technology is well received in emerging markets and less so here. It’s often the only viable option that health workers have of reaching people in rural India, China and South Africa. By comparison, healthcare in developed markets is a relative luxury – and a choice between first-class treatment in a hospital, physician’s office or at home.


Editor’s note: Although I tried to capture key points from a consumer’s perspective, please realize that this report summary just scratched the surface, and much more is included in the report than can be presented here.

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