LIVE FROM GSMA-mHA MOBILE HEALTH SUMMIT: Tom Wheeler (pictured), Chairman of the Board of the mHealth Alliance, drew the event to a close this evening by underlining the core commodity at the heart of the healthcare business – information. “I think you’ve got to start with the fact that healthcare is an information business. When he puts the stethoscope up against your chest, he is gathering information. When he listens to your cough, he is gathering information. When he takes your temperature he is gathering information. If you look at the healthcare business as a collection of information, the challenge is how to get information to the place where it can best be most productively consumed, for the benefit of the person from whom I have collected it. That’s the challenge that exists in the world today,” he said.
Wheeler observed that in the developing world, the fact that opportunities in the mHealth space are not fully formed “may actually be a break.” He said: “It is the marriage of m-health and the cloud that really changes the dynamics. All of a sudden we are not talking about physical facilities, so much as we are talking about services that are held in the cloud. All of a sudden we are not talking about ‘we’ve got this platform here, and this platform here, and this platform here’ – we are talking about the ability to build a common platform in the cloud that can be accessed wirelessly by all.”
The role of the operator in the ecosystem was also discussed, with both weaknesses and strengths highlighted. “I think it’s important to recognise that the mobile operator is not the initiator, but rather the enabler. There is a reason that this is mHealth, not hMobile. That mobile enables the health application,” Wheeler noted. However, Chris Locke, Executive Director of the Development Fund at the GSMA, noted: “The one thing that operators can do is take things to scale. They can deliver that scale incredibly well. But they have to see how it performs as a sustainable business to them. The challenge is achieving that potential in the developing world, while at the same time making sure it fits within the financial constraints that working in those environments offers.”
Within this, the role of governments to pave the way for new solutions is also vital. Wheeler said: “Clearly government has an important role protecting its citizens. But one of the ways that governments can protect the health and wellbeing of their citizens is to encourage innovation. Saying ‘we’ve always done this way, so we are going to continue doing it this way’ is not helpful to the citizens. Nor is saying ‘we are so special, we are so unique, that this has to be done this way in my country.’ It creates a purposeless diversity of structures that inhibits the building of the kind of ecosystem we need.”
And for all the talk of technology, it was also noted that mHealth solutions do not need to be sophisticated to deliver. “It’s all about information, and the network that facilitates the transfer of information. And that information doesn’t have to be 0 and 1s. The ability to make a phone call to get someone to take a pregnant mother who is in distress, to a medical facility – there is nothing technologically revolutionary about that. But the impact of that is transformational,” Wheeler concluded.