Friday, August 15, 2008

mHealth: Making the Market Happen

The United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation hosted a conference last week on using mobile technology to improve healthcare delivery in the developing world. This exclusive gathering brought together 25 leading eHealth practitioners, academics and business managers with the ambitious goal of setting a global strategic direction for the delivery of healthcare through mobile devices (mHealth). Facilitated by Vital Wave Consulting and hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, the week-long conference in Bellagio, Italy was designed to create a common framework for sustainably scaling mHealth initiatives.

The conference agenda included examining the landscape of mHealth, understanding the various applications of mHealth (including mobile telemedicine), evaluating its delivery value chain, determining critical success factors and identifying the incentives for financially sustainable implementations. As with any initiative focused on extending universal, quality service to the most remote and underserved people in the world, there are considerable challenges to overcome – interoperability of networks and platforms, lack of local capacity and management expertise, diverse and often contradictory regulatory regimes, and distribution channels that rarely reach rural constituents, to name a few. It is the nature of these challenges that makes public-private partnerships an integral part of the future mHealth landscape.

mHealth is a promising sub-vertical of two rapidly-growing areas of ICT – eHealth (i.e., delivery of health-related services through electronic media) and mServices (i.e., delivery of services such as banking and governance through mobile networks). Attendees recognized the value, importance and inherent opportunity of committing to an “mHealth Alliance” dedicated to designing and executing effective mobile service projects. The inception of the mHealth sub-vertical provides companies in the telecommunications, software and hardware industries, as well as service and content providers, with the opportunity to shape the market in its infancy. With effective public-private partnerships that establish common mHealth standards and practices, participating companies can make the market happen instead of waiting for the market to take shape around, or perhaps without, them.

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