It may still be early days for M-Health to provide a consistent (and significant) revenue stream to operators, but don't write it off just yet- the launch by Vodafone's CEO Vittorio Colao of its M-Health business unit could be coming at a time when the mobile health market just begins to gain some traction.
Simple M-Health applications, such as spreading knowledge about AIDS across Africa and other emerging markets via SMS, now abound. These offer a genuine benefit to populations that are outside the reach of an overburdened health system, due to lack of regional infrastructure.
Meanwhile, mobile based patient consulting is becoming common, with projects such as Healthline in Bangladesh, Medicall in Mexico and Teledoctor in Pakistan (backed by Telenor). The interesting thing here is that it is not just governments doing it but also operators and even entrepreneurs.
Though more elaborate services, such as the monitoring of heart beats and glucose levels wirelessly are still at the trial stage, they should be here within a couple of years. The ultimate application- remote diagnosis- may take a little longer but even that is not science fiction any more.
And as Orange, with some three years experience in the health care sector, shows, it may not only be emerging markets where operators can offer M-Health services. Orange Healthcare has announced plans to launch an SMS reminder service in the UK this Quarter; several other M-Health applications may follow in the rest of 2010. Imperial College London surveys apparently show that such a service could reduce the number of missed appointments by 26-39%, saving the NHS up to £350 billion a year.
This, of course, is likely to be M-Health's "Killer App". If anything can shake off government inertia towards new technology its likely to be the prospect of significant health budget savings: US operator Verizon estimates, according to reports, that mobile broadband can improve health care productivity in the US to the tune of $6.9 billion and that could rise nearly eight fold by 2016.