Imagine a scenario where a foreign patient comes to Turkey for medical treatment. This is not so unusual since the country is a popular destination with foreigners looking for so called medical tourism.

Following treatment the patient returns to their home country.  However their Turkish doctor wants to keep an eye on the patient’s progress and does so via essential data readings which are sent back via a SIM-embedded gateway located with the user which dispatches readings via the mobile network.

Such a scenario is far from fanciful. In fact it is an idea being studied by Turkcell. It should be emphasised that this is early days for this concept which we might call mobile health roaming but Ethem Eldem, the operator’s head of product and partner management, says it is possible. He says there could be interest from Turkcell’s roaming partners abroad. Has there been a trial? Not yet. It’s still at the stage of talks. But Turkcell will, I predict, not be the only operator to look at this concept.

However, firstly a mobile operator needs to put in place the infrastructure to enable it to happen. Turkcell launched its new SIM-embedded health gateway at the end of April and is now busily pitching the device to the country’s private hospitals. The bigger opportunity for Turkcell’s gateway comes from the public sector, which pays for most of the country’s healthcare. Without government support subscribers must pay for the health gateway themselves. So Turkcell’s goal is to convince government it should subsidise its devices for the country’s patients.

The Turkish operator is no novice when it comes to launching mobile health services. Nearly two years ago it launched free SMS and MMS-based health advice services covering areas such as pregnancy advice. The service has signed up about one million users.

Some other mobile operators have generated revenues from such services through subscription fees for the SMS and MMS content but in the case of Turkcell the service is funded through advertising which appears at the end of messages and is related to their content.

The operator also has a couple of other mobile health services. One offers physicians an Android-based mobile information portal with features such as training videos and a pharmaceutical dictionary. And the operator also offers software to general practitioners which supports their businesses, for instance in communicating with patients about appointments. The software runs on mobile handsets or laptops.

However Turkcell (along with most other operators) agrees that remote patient monitoring will probably be the most important mobile health service for the industry. After all, that’s the service Turkcell’s SIM-embedded gateway is set up to deliver.

But there are other ways that the government might generate revenue in the future. And one of them is from foreign visitors and mobile health roaming. Again the business model would probably rely on finding an organisation to pay the mobile operator for its service. Set up with a prearranged roaming package, the embedded SIM might not use that much data with its steady trickle of regular readings. Possible payers could be a private hospital or health insurer who would pay for the data roaming and then pass on the cost in some form to the patient. The roaming cost could be bundled within a larger hospital fee or insurance premium. Now let's see what patients make of the concept.

Richard Handford
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.