Health IT

Improving healthcare in developing countries with mobile health

Developing countries in Africa and Asia may not appear to be rife with opportunity for mobile health as a way of improving healthcare, but even in villages with no running water or electricity, residents are more likely to own a mobile phone. Tom Wheeler of Core Capital Partners, the founder of SmartBrief and chairman of […]

Developing countries in Africa and Asia may not appear to be rife with opportunity for mobile health as a way of improving healthcare, but even in villages with no running water or electricity, residents are more likely to own a mobile phone.

Tom Wheeler of Core Capital Partners, the founder of SmartBrief and chairman of the United Nations mHealth Alliance, discussed in a keynote speech how mobile health technology could be utilized in developing countries at the mHealthcon mobile health conference at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Thursday. His comments are also available here.

“There are now more people connected to the mobile network around the world than are connected to the electric grid. There are more people around the world using mobile phones than there are using toothbrushes,” Wheeler said.

He pointed out that The World Bank calculated that for every 10 percent increase in mobile phone penetration in a developing country, the country’s GDP increases by 1.2 percent.

Wheeler proffered that mobile health could be used to address a wide range of issues from promoting best practices for midwives to lower infant mortality rates in childbirth to addressing the disparity in some developing countries where the majority of the nation’s population live in rural areas and where the majority of physicians live in urban areas, such as India.

But Wheeler advised that one of the greatest challenges in expanding mhealth to developing countries is not so much the technology issues, but how the technology is managed — taking stand-alone structures to integrated interoperable systems. In order to make this happen, he said, investors need to be more disciplined about their investment choices. In order to ensure that the solutions benefit the greatest number of people, he advised that tough decisions would have to be made.

“The trials to date have been principally funded by private donors; it is now time to apply the harsh discipline of the business world. Unfortunately, not every well-meaning idea is sustainable and scalable. It is time to learn from the trials, decide what works and what does not, and feed the winners and shoot the losers.”