by Richard Handford

An increase in the life expectancy of a country’s population is always a cause of celebration, right? Not if you are a pensions provider.  Hence they are likely to be raising a small cheer because the number of Brits living longer is growing at a lower rate than previously expected.

The number of the UK population that is aged 85-89 is about two percent lower than had been forecast as recently as 2010. Meanwhile the number of those over the age of 90 is 15 percent lower than previously anticipated. Who noticed this statistical change? A pension provider of course. In this case it was Friends Life, according to the Financial Times (subscription required).

Such an analysis might make us think twice about the striking projection from earlier this year that more than one third of the babies born in the UK during 2012 could live to be one hundred years old.  This year 14,500 people in the country will reach that landmark, rising to 110,000 in 2035, it has been predicted.

If such projections prove too optimistic then no one (except pension providers) will likely rejoice. That number could include mobile operators who are looking to define future users of remote monitoring services, for which the elderly are a likely customer base.

Can such big-data demographic shifts make or break a new type of mobile health service? Or perhaps we should look at policy shifts and budget cuts for a stronger guide about what will be crucial to a new service.

Reports in recent weeks have said that the US is heading towards what is termed “a fiscal cliff” thanks to automatic budget cuts that are due to come into effect next year.  The automatic spending cuts – known as sequestration – are the result of a deal struck in August 2011. They were intended as a penalty imposed on Congress for failure to reach a deficit reduction deal. Congress duly failed to reach agreement, and now sequestration could come into play. An agreement is high unlikely ahead of the November 6 elections in the US although the odds might improve post-election.

If no deal is struck, a number of sectors, including healthcare, are in the firing lines. Drugs companies and hospitals have already expressed concern, as you would expect, as they lobby to minimise the impact on their revenues. Conversely mobile health, for instance remote monitoring of patients, could be a net gainer if health facilities are looking to save expenditure on patient care.

A less optimistic view is that, in times of austerity, institutions such as hospitals are reluctant to engage in any new activity, even if it promises to eventually deliver cost savings. And then factor in that any large-scale move into mobile health would involve start-up costs and the outcome for mobile health is less clearcut.

Or maybe mobile operators should worry less about what politicians are doing, and focus more on their customers. A new survey by Makovsky Health, a public relations firm, and Kelton, a market researcher, found that consumers much prefer using a PC to research health information than a mobile device, such as a smartphone or a tablet. Lindsey Thompson, a vice president with Makovksy, said this finding was generally true across all demographics.  “Consumers find the functionality on mobile devices too limited for researching health subjects. Subject matter can range from disease background to vetting different drugs in the category – a broader and deeper search that's seen as best done at a desktop,” she told Mobile Health Live.  But this could change in the future, as the iPad grows in popularity, websites become more mobile-friendly and health apps more specialist.

Bear in mind, this is a survey of how users like to research health information rather than how they actually experience a mobile health service but it gives an idea into what makes users feel comfortable. Possibly that’s the kind of insight that operators should follow more closely than paying too much attention to how the big numbers look.

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.