Where mHealth goes from here

Summary:Regulatory and payment barriers have American mobile health trailing what is available in rural Africa. The mHealth Alliance Summit hopes to change that.

As our Pure Genius blog reported today, mHealth is hot.

(Picture from the mHealth Alliance, by Josh Nesbit.)

The big names in global philanthropy now realize its potential. In addition to Bill Gates and Ted Turner, this week's summit in Washington saw million dollar checks presented by the government of Norway and by HP.

The crowd was triple last year's figure, 2,700 filling a Washington ballroom. Reporters compared it to the Lollapalooza festivals.

Which concerned me. Lollapalooza flamed out in the late 1990s before being reborn as a local Chicago event.

Clive G. Smith, the alliance's new director of global operations, told me this excitement has a sounder basis, more comparable to the Internet World show I attended in 1994 a few miles northwest of the Convention Center where this week's event is being held.

Smith knows change. A South African by birth, he has spanned the worlds of computing, philanthropy, and journalism for over 30 years.

Smith is confident because many mobile health applications can run on old Nokia "feature phones," which are all over Africa, India, and the rest of the developing world. "There are many applications that are text or voice based," he said. In many countries "mobile is the difference between health care and no health care."

That's not entirely true in the U.S., where there are privacy, security, and multiple regulatory hurdles to be overcome. "I think you're going to see an explosion of activity and pilots in the U.S. over the next year," he predicted. "I think companies like Nike and Apple will also start developing things on the well being side."

That's great, but until insurers have an incentive to pay for wellness, I said, applications may be limited to cases where a patient is being actively rehabilitated, and priced out of consumers' reach.

Some solutions must be found for these problems, but Smith said the momentum from this event will lead to them.

The result will be applications developed for smart phone consumer markets in the north migrating swiftly to feature phone applications for the global south, he said.

"Part of what's happening at an event like this one is because a new community is starting to come together – individuals, organizations and companies. It's very exciting when people start reaching potential partners and collaborating.

"I don't know where the leadership will come from – consumers, health care, mobile – but there are a lot of positive things taking place, which will be enabled" very quickly.

I hope he's right.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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