M-health needs medical fraternity buy-in

Industry currently driven by operators, device makers and app developers but healthcare workers' support vital to drive widespread adoption, one doctor says.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor on

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--The development of the mobile health industry has been driven by parties on the periphery of the healthcare industry, such as mobile network operators and device and application makers. However, it is only by involving certified medical professionals will the m-health market hit critical mass in adoption, says one industry player.

Dr. K Ganapathy, president of the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation in India, said one reason why m-health has not yet reached an inflection point in adoption is the general lack of awareness among the public that their mobile phones can act as "the doctor, hospital, and laboratory". He was speaking to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the M-Health Strategies conference, held in conjunction with CommunicAsia here on Thursday.

The bigger reason, though, is because medical professionals are being left out of the loop, he said. Only a handful of doctors, out of thousands of attendees at major conferences worldwide, cover mobile health topics, he said to back up his observation.

Furthermore, the main parties driving industry development are mobile network operators, app developers and device makers, as there's a business motivation for them to do so, he noted. Carriers, for instance, want to push m-health as a value-added service (VAS) because traditional revenue generators such as voice calls and SMS have been diminished by Internet Protocol-based alternatives, Ganapathy explained.

This means m-health vendors are now engaging patients directly and bypassing the medical fraternity, but since patients prefer to consult trained doctors for medical issues, such mobile-based products and services are not likely to see higher or faster adoption, the president said.

Medical professionals will also not join in the m-health ecosystem if they are not "excited" about it, he added.

As such, he called on vendors to make a business case for the doctors, since adoption by them, and subsequently by the mass market, ultimately boils down to the technology being a viable option, Ganapathy said. A hospital CIO, for one, needs to see that deploying mobile healthcare services will benefit the organization and not result in "taking over the healthcare industry" and leaving doctors and nurses without jobs, he said.

"Mobile health can't replace the doctor. Mobile health is a means to an end, not an end in itself," he stressed.

To raise awareness among healthcare workers, Ganapathy suggested that medical conferences should include mobile health topics. Right now, these topics are mostly covered as part of IT-based trade events such as CommunicAsia, he noted.

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