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Seeking financial stability for mHealth

Transition from funded projects to self-sustenance imperative

As mobile health gains ground as a way to improve population health and curb healthcare costs, models for making mHealth financially sustainable are topmost in the minds of stakeholders in the U.S. and across the globe.

[See also: mHealth VC hits $907M in 2012]

“Mobile is a global game changer,” according to David Collins, senior director, mHIMSS, a globally-focused mobile initiative of HIMSS, the parent company of Healthcare Finance News.

In Collins’ view, there are just too many mobile health projects that are having a real impact on healthcare delivery for investors to ignore. These initiatives offer a value proposition to the Samsungs, Verizons and AT&Ts of the world, said Collins.

A recent Time magazine poll found that 84 percent of respondents worldwide could not go a day without their mobile device, and one in four people check their phones every 30 minutes. 

Statistics such as these drive home a point made by Ken Kleinberg, managing director, research and insights at The Advisory Board Company: Mobile devices are no longer a supplemental way for the public to access information – they’ve become central, and for healthcare providers trying to connect to patients, that’s an opportunity. 

“In the U.S., as we move from a fee-for-service model to an accountable care model, having patients engaged has become crucial,” Kleinberg said. “In this new environment, mobility has a much greater influence.”

What needs to happen now is a transition from mHealth initiatives funded primarily by grants to self-sustainable financial models.  

According to the report, "Sustainable Financing for Mobile Health (mHealth): Options and opportunities for mHealth financial models in low and middle-income countries," one such model is for stakeholders to transition from a funding model to an “economic buyers” model, which is another way of saying they have to find purchasers who have enough skin in the game to make such investments feasible.

Mobile apps that address the need for quality monitoring, for example, “are likely to be attractive to private sector organizations in addition to public sector actors.” A case in point: An app that helps identify counterfeit drugs would obviously benefit patients who are wasting their money and seeing no improvement in their symptoms, but it would also be attractive to pharmaceutical firms who are losing revenue from these fake medications.

Similarly, applications that address the performance and accountability of healthcare professionals might appeal to government agencies in resource-poor countries if they can be designed to improve clinicians’ productivity and reduce costs.

Nigeria, for instance, has bought into this approach. The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health has partnered with the mHealth Alliance, GSMA and Intel to improve healthcare delivery nationwide. The partnership created a program called MADEX (Mobile Application Data Exchange), which includes a device and a mobile app that allows clinicians to transmit data from rural areas to a central office in the capital. The platform lets midwives register how many babies have been born, the number of pregnancy complications and other vital statistics. The information obtained helps federal officials make informed decisions on how to allocate healthcare services.


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