The mobile phone and Internet are starting to replace the friendly neighborhood general practitioner in India.
People in big cities and smaller towns are turning to online resources, text messaging, email, and the phone for access to expert medical advice, routine check-ups, and to see a specialist. It isn't people looking to find a doctor. Actual medical advice and services are available. Consider some of the following:
MyLabYogi is an online diagnostic service in Mumbai, which allows patients to choose a laboratory of their choice to get their tests done, while samples are collected and results delivered to their doorsteps.
HelpingDoc is an online front office service (for doctors) in New Delhi and the National Capital Region, which provides access to specialists, doctor profiles, and appointments.
HealthcareMagic is an online "Ask the Doctor" e-clinic in Bangalore, which is available 24x7 and provides an instant question-and-answer format to patients.
Alacurity is a healthcare concierge service that communicates with patients through live chat, phone, and email to facilitate end-to-end services like nursing, transport, accommodation, online health records, appointments, preventive checks, and doctor searches.
Diabeto is a remote monitoring Bluetooth-based hardware unit app that can be plugged into your glucometer and any Android device seamlessly. It helps to track and control diabetes by measuring sugar levels, plotting a graph, and emailing it your doctor.
These are just the beginning. In its June 2012 report, "Touching Lives Through Mobile Health: Assessment of the Global Market Opportunity," PwC predicted that the growth of the mHealth market will lead to a revenue opportunity worth US $0.6 billion for India. In other words, the mobile health market opportunity for India will constitute 8 percent of the total Asia-Pacific opportunity by 2017.
According to the press release, Mohammad Chowdhury, Telecoms Industry Leader of PwC India, said:
Our estimates suggest that in spite of the advancements in medical technologies and a general increase in income levels, healthcare continues to pose challenges of affordability, complexity and access. By contrast, mobile access is almost ubiquitous. With the increasing penetration of smart phones, innovative 'connected devices,' and the proliferation of mobile broadband networks and services, the mobile device will play a far greater role in healthcare.
It is in this context that CIOs at healthcare organizations need to evaluate the opportunities and challenges that m-healthcare presents. The lack of doctors, long lines at hospitals and health clinics, the cost of medical care, and the increased penetration of mobile and Internet technologies are obvious drivers of the market for m-health initiatives.
The challenge in India is not merely to deliver the relevant application in a cost-effective manner, it is to spread awareness and acceptance among both patients and doctors. Every healthcare CIO in India should know:
- Despite the growth, there is a lack of awareness among consumers that their phone can be used as a healthcare aid/tool.
- There is also resistance among doctors towards remote diagnosis and treatment. Not all electronically transmitted lab reports, X-rays, and ultrasounds lead to the right diagnosis. Sometimes a face-to-face interaction makes a difference, and doctors are concerned about this.
- CIOs should be on the lookout for an effective delivery model that ensures ease-of-use (and privacy) for the consumer and support infrastructure for healthcare workers where needed.
- A business model still needs to be worked out. Given the wide range of services and advice, from consultation about serious ailments to general advice against smoking and drinking, when to charge and how much to charge is still very much an issue for both consumers and providers to work out.
Of course, a focus on the customer, just like a focus in healthcare is always on the patient, is essential. Whatever service you choose to deliver, deliver it in the best way possible for the customer. M-health's growth centers around that convenience.