Mobile health care could become as compelling as text messaging, states Wireless Healthcare report

Cambridge 18 March 2004Health care and mobile phones are usually only mentioned in the same sentence during debates about the safety of handsets and masts. This could change over the coming years according to a report just published by the Cambridge-based consultancy Wireless Healthcare. The report suggests mobile operators could play a key role in providing public health care services.

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Derek Wanless, an advisor to the British government, has highlighted the need for a fully engaged health care scenario within which public health becomes the responsibility of a diverse range of organisations as well as the individual. Wireless Healthcare believes that when subscribers gain access to mobile phones that can interact with other wireless devices, mobile operators could become key players in a fully engaged health care scenario.

Existing mobile services, such as video and text messaging are heavily marketed to people in their late teens and early twenties. The report notes that while mobile operators have access to the youth market, health care providers find it difficult to reach this particular demographic group. The report "Mobile Operators - Fully Engaged", identifies three areas where mobile health care services are applicable within a fully engaged health care scenario. These three areas are dietary information, fitness and training, and health monitoring.

Some food stores have already installed handheld wireless scanners that enable shoppers to scan products. These devices are also capable of providing the consumer with dietary information and highlighting products that might cause an allergic reaction. Wireless Healthcare believes a similar service could run over a mobile network with independent vendors supplying dietary information on a wide range of food products. These vendors could make shoppers aware of the sugar, fat or salt contents of products. This type of service could also monitor the user's compliance with a weight loss plan. The report sees the arrival of RFID labelling and scanning devices that can be used with mobile handsets as key drivers in this market.

Smart mobile handsets could be used to upload training programmes into exercise equipment. They could also be used to download performance data and monitor compliance with exercise plans. Users could compare their performance with that of other members of a peer group. This service could prove particularly compelling and profitable. It would also exploit the mobile operator's access to young people whose lack of physical activity is worrying policymakers in the health care sector.

Unlike a fixed line service, a mobile phone usually has just one unique user who keeps the handset within reach throughout the day. A mobile phone, therefore, would make an ideal gateway between a range of wireless monitoring devices and a GSM or GPRS network. The report identifies technologies such as wireless enabled scales and blood pressure monitors that are essential for a mobile patient monitoring services. Health monitoring services would be used to monitor compliance with diets and health care plans and gather data prior to a patient's visit to their general practitioner.

Wireless Healthcare has published their report in advance of the Healthcare Computing 2004 Conference in Harrogate. As the report's author Peter Kruger stated: "Although there is a growing interest in mobile services within the health care sector, we feel it is unlikely the National Health Service (NHS) will pioneer the use of mobile health care services. Disease prevention is an area where the NHS is particularly weak. A fully engaged health care scenario will see a diverse range of organisations, such as food retailers, fitness clubs and even mobile phone operators marketing health care orientated services to their customers."

Wireless Healthcare is a United Kingdom-based consultancy specialising in mobile health care and ehealth. The report "Mobile Operators - Fully Engaged" costs GBP49 VAT non-included and is available from Toby Jackson at Wireless Healthcare.


Leslie Versweyveld

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