Today has been a good day for mHealth. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, both the GSM Association and the combined UN and Vodafone Foundations have made major commitments to the development and support of mHealth. For those unfamiliar with the word, mHealth is the use of a mobile phone to deliver healthcare.
The White Paper that the GSM Association has produced in conjunction with its announcement explains it well – it’s all about “The Doctor in your Pocket”. It surveys four countries that already have established remote healthcare schemes – a mix of both private and government initiatives, and concludes that not only does it work, but that it has the potential to bring significant improvements to the lives of people who have the greatest difficulty in accessing healthcare provision.
Last week Stephen Carter, UK Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, launched the Government’s Interim report on Digital Britain. I’d recommend reading it – its scope is wide and it contains a refreshing amount of joined up thinking. The initial press coverage concentrated on its aim to bring broadband to all UK homes by 2012. That’s a highly laudable aim, but by concentrating on that one conclusion the media missed much of the more promising underlying detail, particularly its relevance to home telecare.
Professor Nick Bosanquet – a director of the centre-right think tank Reform ruffled a number of feathers at the end of last year when he stated that the NHS would do well to invest in virtual infrastructure. The core of his argument is that patients should send their data to the hospital for diagnosis rather than turning up themselves to be measured. We couldn’t agree more.
It’s surprising that it had the effect that it did. For several years everyone within the health service has known that it is heading for bankruptcy, as is every other health service in the world. We’re getting older – by 2010 over 40% of Europeans will be aged over 50, which means that the number of people in work paying taxes to support the growing bulk of the population (in all of its senses) is becoming an intractable problem.
The solution is generally agreed to be more remote monitoring of patients to try and keep them out of hospital. However much we bang that drum, the message is largely ignored. What has engaged the attention of the media is the modest proposal that this means we may need to build fewer hospitals or that we’re building the wrong sort.
At the end of 2008, Aberdeenshire Council issued a report on its experience with telecare. For anyone interested in this area, (and that should be a lot more than currently are showing interest), this is one of the best descriptions of the technology, the reality of deploying it and the resulting benefits that you’re likely to come across. The key finding is that it works. What makes this trial and the results so impressive is the way they’ve concentrated on the basics, using simple devices to help make people’s lives easier.