Telecos need to pursue mHealth


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While India is home to world-class physicians and hospitals, the delivery of quality healthcare is fragmented and inconsistent. Rural areas lack adequate access to physicians, while urban healthcare providers struggle to keep pace with the demands of their high-income customers. Since according to a planning commission report, almost 67 percent of healthcare costs are paid out of pocket, cost is a key consideration.

Providing quality healthcare-with sufficient access across India's vast population-will require leveraging leading edge technologies like mobile and cloud. But this is easier said than done. Compared to India, countries with more mature digital health markets have struggled to integrate mobile healthcare channels. Since legacy healthcare systems are largely built on closed architectures, and can't integrate with the latest digital technologies, this limits their ability to save on infrastructure costs and utilize cloud-based shared services.

In India, digital health services will be cloud-based but delivered via mobile channels. While only 3 percent of Indian households have a computer with Internet access, 63 percent have a mobile phone. And while high-speed 3G and 4G data networks have low subscription rates, they can support a wide array of bandwidth-appropriate applications built for all types of mobile services.

Industry analysts project that the mHealth market in India will grow to cross Rs 3,000 crore by 2017; however, these estimates only include direct spending by consumers. As new B2B opportunities emerge and the healthcare market expands, the mHealth market will also expand accordingly.

If telecom providers intend to rollout mHealth services, they need to take a hard look at the mHealth market and develop an effective strategy that adds value to the ecosystem.

A recent survey of India's top 10 telecom companies shows a strong interest in providing mHealth as a Mobile Value Added Service, or MVAS. Indian telcos typically work with two types of mHealth partners: platform and clinical. mHealth platform providers serve as a content repository and provide the connection between clinical service providers and content delivery.

Clinical partners are either integrated with platform service providers or operate as separate entities, such as hospitals. With the exception of four operators, all major telecom companies provide at least basic mHealth as anMVAS. Here is what mobile providers can offer as mHealth service:

Push-based Information Services
Most mHealth offerings provided byIndian telecom companies involve delivering push-based health and wellness information to subscribers, but not personalized service.

Subscribers tend to use a subscription model of condition-specific healthcare advice. For example, people pay Rs 30 per month to subscribe to Reliance's Mobile Healthcare Services and then choose to subscribe to content-specific packages, such as those for Diabetes or Skin Care.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)-driven information services, that offer similar clinical advice as SMS-based models, appeal to a wider audience and provide more personalized clinical information. Services can be delivered in multiple languages and don't require literacy. Using algorithm-driven questionnaires, services can provide better information based on an individual's symptoms. IVR is an especially critical mHealth enabler in rural markets where access to healthcare is poor and mobile use is growing.


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