mHealth – The Genie in the Lamp

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

By Dawood Khan,

mHealth Summit, Washington DC

WASHINGTON, D.C. – mHealth – The mobile phone is Aladdin’s Lamp!

The mHealth sector is definitely in the initial phases of a hype cycle. It is rattled with endless point-solutions; thousands of apps, hundreds of wearable devices, no real idea of business models, a blatantly “patient un-centric” approach to mHealth, and unimpressive solutions showcased as the “latest mobile health technology” that would remind anyone in the mobile industry of 2006.

2006 was an era the mobile industry was full of point solutions, more content than anyone could find on carrier portals – a.k.a. walled gardens. The Blackberry was the pinnacle of a smart mobile device, an entirely un-centric user experience, and a business model that basically gauged consumers.

Then came Apple in 2007 and the mobile industry changed. Apple’s ingenious approach went far beyond technology in the iPhone. It came with a markedly consumer-centric approach from revolutionizing the content revenue-sharing business model, and an engaging end-user experience. Apple negotiated Digital Rights Management deals with record labels, content aggregators, and distributors. It allowed application developers to keep 70% of revenues. This was unheard of among Western MNOs, who kept 80% of application and content revenues, and controlled their portals.

In retrospect, Apple was the mobile industry’s genie.

Fast forward to 2013, and while anyone who has observed hype cycles in industries undergoing change can see that mHealth is all hype and little substance. At this time, there are some glimmers of hope, offering a potential to change the hype to hope.

mhealth

Enter Mohammad Yunus – an unassuming, humble, simply dressed global change leader – A Nobel Prize winning inspiration for social change. Among many innovative ways of challenging social, business, and technology status quo, he established Garmeen Bank, acquired wireless spectrum and set up a cellular service provider in Bangladesh to serve the underserved. His target was the poorest women in the world. They were the “telephone ladies” – allowing villagers to make calls, conduct banking, etc.. He grew this to 400k “telephone ladies” within 5 years.

He dreamed of creating Aladdin’s lamp with a magic genie who would solve the problems of people – he believes the mobile phone to be that magic lamp with a digital genie – granting wishes, solving people’s problems, allowing them to make money to feed their family, access banking, and “dial a doctor”. In trying to achieve Bangladesh’s Millennium Development goals, Yunus has been working on addressing medical issues among the most vulnerable. Using mobile to offer “dial a doctor” service and even for portable ultrasounds. His current dream is to use the mobile phone as a portable Ultrasound device (instead of a tablet) with an ultrasound app that can be downloaded.

While applications exist for mobile eye scanning, ECG, and detecting certain types of cancer, his vision is that mobile collects info from the body in every way allowing machines to analyze trends over time and pre-emptively alert  you when there is a problem. In this way, diagnostics can be provided at a personal level without having to go to a doctor.

After this, speaker after speaker spoke of the best solution their company either enables or delivers. The challenge is that these solutions are all closed loop and not necessarily the best for consumers. In many cases, solutions don’t have a business model. Given the US centric crowd, the approach to funding was, as expected, US centric. And so, the discussions around what kind of business model will work still need to be thought through. In essence, what may work for a particular solution in one Country, will need to be totally reformed for another. Eventually, the players will sort things out.

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