Thursday, December 2, 2010

mHealth - a New Level of Maturity?

The who's who in mHealth gathered a few weeks ago at the second annual mHealth Summit in Washington, DC. Organized by the National Institutes for Health and the mHealth Alliance, the event featured globally-known keynote speakers including Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Dr. Judith Rodin (President of the Rockefeller Foundation). The mHealth Summit also attracted 2,400 attendees from 48 countries, 125 exhibitors and several hundred members of the media. This represents a dramatic change from just a few years ago when mHealth gatherings were small-group discussions and workshops on how to put this nascent field on the global radar. Yet it begs the question: has mHealth reached a new level of maturity, or just a new level of attention?
Collaboration with the broader eHealth community (of which mHealth is a sub-set) is a good indicator of maturation in the mHealth space. Indeed, eHealth and mHealth leaders are coming together to establish common principles and standards for implementations in the space. Another notable development is the increasing focus among mHealth organizations on Maternal and Child Health. This focus was inspired by the need to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals. It has also prompted discussion on how mHealth could be used to improve the health of poor men, which is linked to maternal and child health indicators as well as to markers of community well-being. This subject was the topic of two recent workshops organized by the Collins Center for Public Policy.

Despite these achievements, true maturity of a field like mHealth can be measured by one concrete achievement: scale. From the inception of organizations like the mHealth Alliance and the mHealth Initiative, the goal of scale has been top-of-mind but elusive. mHealth pilots abound, but scale is necessary for market-driven sustainability of mHealth. Such drivers will come from private-sector involvement motivated by credible impact assessments and proof of potential profits (or at least financial sustainability). The development community and private sector alike would benefit from focusing on mHealth impact assessments, cost saving analyses, and market sizing, as well as the application of these research outputs to motivate the investments necessary for scale.