mHealth: Embraced by developing world, resisted by developed countries

By Eric Wicklund
12:28 PM

A new study of the global mHealth market finds that consumers and developing countries are driving its growth, while physicians are reluctant to adapt.

Those are some of the conclusions drawn from “Emerging Health: Paths for Growth,” published by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The 48-page report, based on two separate surveys conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and analyzing 10 nations, indicates developing nations are quicker to accept and adopt telehealth because it’s seen as a way to increase access to healthcare, while developed nations like the United States are being dogged down by regulatory hurdles and a resistance to change among providers.

“Consumers are demanding and payers are willing to pay, but providers aren’t willing to provide,” said Christopher Wasden, PwC’s global healthcare innovation leader. “What we are going to need to do is get providers to think and act differently.”

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“To what extent are physicians in their country willing to adapt?” he asked.

Wasden and David Levy, MD, also a global healthcare leader for PwC, said mHealth is more of a disruptive force in developed nations because it challenges the status quo and forces providers and payers to accept that patients have more control of their healthcare choices. Wasden said many doctors are wary of giving the patient more access to medical data and control because they fear – incorrectly – that they will lose business.

In developing countries, meanwhile, mHealth is seen as a new market with exciting possibilities. New startups and business models, with assistance from the telecommunications sector, Wasden said, are driving mHealth to unprecedented levels of growth. That, he said, is why the African nations and India are among the hotbeds for new innovation in mHealth.

In developed nations, meanwhile, providers – and to a lesser extent payers – say there are too many barriers to mHealth. More than one-quarter of those surveyed in both categories say the conservative culture in healthcare is a leading barrier; others include complex regulations and technology, lack of access to wireless services; and massive changes to the physician’s workload.

Nearly half of the patients surveyed, meanwhile, indicate that in the next three years, mHealth will improve the convenience (46 percent), cost (52 percent) and quality (48 percent) of their healthcare.

“Despite demand and the obvious potential benefits of mHealth, rapid adoption is not occurring,” Levy said. “The main barriers are not the technology but rather systemic to healthcare and inherent resistance to change. Though many people think mobile health will be ancillary or bolted on to the healthcare industry, we look at it differently: mHealth is the future of healthcare, deeply integrated into delivery that will be better, faster, less expensive and far more consumer-focused.”

While physicians are wary of the empowered patient (the report indicates 42 percent of doctors surveyed worry that mHealth will make their patients too independent), Wasden said they “completely miss” the benefits of instant access to healthcare data. He said healthcare costs can be brought down if patients change their behaviors, and that can be accomplished if they work with physicians and use real-time data to monitor and manage their lifestyles.

“We know what will really change patient outcomes … but physicians don’t believe they can change patient behaviors,” he said.

According to the report, only 27 percent of physicians encourage patients to use mHealth to become more active in managing their health, while 13 percent actually discourage it.

Wasden said the popular perception that payers are opposing mHealth in the United States is wrong. The report indicates 40 percent of payers surveyed encourage patients to let doctors monitor their health and activities and to use mHealth (compared to only 25 percent of physicians). Payers, he said, are feeling threatened by healthcare reform, and are adopting new technologies like mHealth in order to adapt to the changing healthcare landscape. They’re supporting measures that allow patients to be treated in their homes and in clinics – anywhere but the hospital, which he said is the “most expensive place to treat a patient.”

That doesn’t mean hospitals should fear mHealth. Wasden said America’s broken healthcare system – and the healthcare systems of many developed nations – are suffering because 30 percent to 50 percent of the patients in hospitals don’t need to be there, thus causing overcrowding and waste. Taking that percentage out of the hospitals, he said, reduces healthcare costs dramatically and frees up hospitals to treat only those who should be treated there.

Wasden said the PwC report points out that mHealth adoption will take time and effort. Eventually, he said, what’s called “mHealth” will evolve into “healthcare.”

“We need to be realistic that we are in the very early stages,” he said.

A full copy of the report is available for download here.

[See also: Doctor or patient? Who will drive mHealth?]

 

[See also: mHealth moving forward fast, experts say]

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