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mHealth

Vodafone & Microsoft chime in on mHealth

Wireless healthcare requires serious investment

Posted on 12 January 2010 at 18:13 by NHS Resource Centre

Mobile technology has the potential to boost efficiency and reduce costs, while improving patient care. Yet Neil Jordan, managing director of Microsoft’s Worldwide Health Group, tells Paul Curran that the mobile industry must convince its users this is the case before it can really take off.

Neil Jordan, managing director of Microsoft’s Worldwide Health Group, believes that mobile technology providers and their investors have it within their power to transform the healthcare industry.

To do so, however, they must focus on the needs of the people using their systems, rather than on the technology itself.

“The mobile industry must give more thought to the personal benefits healthcare workers and their organisations stand to gain from mobile technology, and not just concentrate on its systemic benefits,” Jordan argued in a keynote presentation to December’s inaugural Mobile Health Industry Summit in London.

“The question is not whether governments should use mobile health, but rather how they should use it.”
He added that mobile technology companies must also convince healthcare organisations that they stand to benefit as much from investing their budgets in mobile technology as they would by spending the same money on procedures, staff and medication.

“It’s all very well for mobile operators and their investors to claim they can save healthcare organisations millions in chronic care management,” Jordan said. “But they must remember that healthcare is all about people, not technology.

“They must therefore convince the individuals who are going to use their mobile solutions that the technology will not only provide organisational savings, but more importantly, improve the quality of their working lives.”

The need for serious investment

Jordan believes that mobile operators have the ability to invest long-term in the catalytic changes needed to transform remote care and telemedicine on a global scale; if they choose to do so.

“Unfortunately, healthcare tends to be a more fragmented business than their traditional marketplace, and hence more demanding, so it’s not surprising we’ve seen several mobile operators jump in and out of the market – which is not good for the healthcare industry, nor for end users,” he said.

However, he told the Mobile Healthcare Summit it was encouraging to hear that Vodafone and other companies are setting up serious global health businesses with the right objectives in mind.

Vodafone Group chief executive officer Vittorio Colao had earlier delivered another keynote address at the event, in which he declared: “The question is not whether governments should use mobile health, but rather how they should use it. I personally believe the mobile phone has a very significant role to play in the provision of healthcare.” The challenge is taking technology that already works really well and scaling it; scaling it down, so that small groups of physician practices can use it, and also scaling it up for use at a nationwide level.”

Adapting already proven technology

Colao envisaged mobile being used increasingly in the simplification of clinical work flows, statistical analysis of record keeping, and in supporting the chronically ill at home, as well as reaching under-resourced and geographically dispersed communities.

In the short term, he said many mobile health services can be created without having to develop new technology. “More often than not, we think about mobile health as very complex systems, but in general technology is not the problem.

“Many pilot schemes have shown the power of mobile healthcare, but unfortunately there has been little success in scaling these projects.”

Jordan agrees, but says the success of mobile healthcare will depend largely on the cooperation of mobile operators like Vodafone.

“In healthcare, there’s no Holy Grail solution, no one size fits all – it’s more a case of adapting the right kind of applications. The people who will make this work are the telecoms providers who traditionally dictate the types of apps and specifications that go on a handset.

“Mr Colao is right – new isn’t always best. The challenge is taking technology that already works really well and scaling it; scaling it down, so that small groups of physician practices can use it, and also scaling it up for use at a nationwide level.”

“At the same time, it often astounds me how expensive organisations make it to put information on an IT platform. They use desperately overcomplicated tools to do simple tasks. Innovation is easy, but making a technology system as flexible as possible can be hard. That’s why, at Microsoft, we advocate a step by step approach.”

As an example, Jordan adds: “We’d much prefer organisations to put a little bit of business intelligence on top of their 20 year-old patient administration system so they can get more value out of it, rather than them necessarily doing a complete ‘rip and replace’.” “The way our healthcare technology partners are now using the CUI shows that you can have a model that not only matches open source ideals, but also has the commercial ability to provide support and sustainability.”

Common Interfaces, open APIs

Where mobile health systems are concerned, Jordan says Microsoft is also happy to mix its technology with new open source application programming interfaces (APIs). “We can’t do it on our own, so we encourage the use of open source APIs – it’s a business model that’s more flexible than those we’ve seen in the past.

“The work that started with our Common User Interface (CUI) programme and was then expanded into the NHS Standardised Infrastructure Project provides a great model for how you can create a whole bunch of IP that’s re-usable both by end users and by the industry.

“The way our healthcare technology partners are now using the CUI shows that you can have a model that not only matches open source ideals, but also has the commercial ability to provide support and sustainability. You’d have complete anarchy if everyone just started building lots of open source electronic medical records (EMRs). Getting the balance right is what matters.”

Need for investment

At the end of the day, Jordan believes existing mobile technology can be adapted to the needs of the healthcare marketplace, but that serious investment is required to underpin the success of any mobile initiative.

For this reason, he says he’d have liked to see more investors at the summit. “When it comes to money, the problem again is one of scale. In the UK, the technology infrastructure exists, but unfortunately there is currently insufficient economic infrastructure.”

As one delegate summed it up, developing mobile healthcare solutions is a risk we have to take as innovators. For mobile solutions to move from pilots, scaling and testing to reality, he said the health industry, the authorities and patients need to have more faith in the possibilities of technology.

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About Margaret Gold

Margaret is an innovation and business launch specialist in the mobile industry, one of the organisers of Over the Air (the annual mobile developer hack-a-thon event), and the founder of The Mobile Collective.

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