Rapid growth predicted for mHealth in Asia Pacific
The increasing use of smartphones will play a pivotal role in transforming healthcare, with analysts predicting the global mobile health market will grow at an impressive compound annual growth rate of 33.5 per cent in the next five years.
The rally is likely to be led by the continued growth of mobile cellular networks in Asian countries, coupled with increased affordability of compatible smartphone devices and growing awareness among patients of connected healthcare applications.
Reports suggest that by 2017, the Asia Pacific region will have nearly three billion smartphone users out of a predicted 5.10 billion across the globe.
But apart from advancements in mobile technology, the projected growth in the mHealth market is attributed largely to an increase in sedentary lifestyles in Asian countries, which is expected to trigger a rise in chronic healthcare problems.
Unchecked population growth in countries like China and India, and a rise in the number of senior citizens in countries like Singapore and Japan, are some of the other influential factors that are pushing the expansion of healthcare facilities in Asia. Solutions like telehealth monitoring, which leverage the power of smartphones to connect to medical devices and allow healthcare providers to track patients in real time, will be a huge leap towards smarter and cost-efficient healthcare.
The rapid growth of the market in the region is also attributed to a rise in the number of government incentives and reforms aimed at supporting mobile healthcare.
Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and India are reframing their healthcare policies and encouraging more start-ups to use disruptive technology to solve key medical challenges.
Singapore, for example, is currently providing a framework for healthcare start-ups to design, develop and test innovative solutions. Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are opening up their markets to foreign healthcare players to provide reliable cross-vendor medical services.
Jacques Durand, medical director of Doctor Gratis and Medika Consulting in Indonesia, believes that mHealth solutions will play a pivotal role in changing patient behaviour as technology provides a sustainable model for healthcare providers to deliver rich and accurate medical information through regulated channels.
“Asia is going to be one of the fastest growing mHealth markets, primarily because of the ubiquity of smartphones and the monumental growth potential of developing economies in the upcoming years,” Dr Durand said.
“Patients are now becoming increasingly aware about the symptoms and the available treatment options. But, more than that, they want to be constantly involved in the whole diagnosis process. They want a tracking mechanism that helps them assess their conditions and want instant and reliable resolutions to their medical queries.”
Dr Durand is a co-founder of Doctor Gratis, one of the largest telemedicine platforms in Asia with a presence in more than 13 Asian countries. He believes that the key challenge in expanding to diverse geographies is to scale up to the local parameters, since every market is different.
“Asia’s healthcare is different than the western healthcare system, since countries like Europe and US have specific and well-defined operating policies, while I believe the Asian healthcare segment is still in metamorphosis," he said. "Digital healthcare start-ups looking towards Asia have to look and experiment with different strategies rather than simply waiting for the system to get evolved.”
Dr Durand believes that although western countries have more technological prowess, the biggest growth in mHealth will come from developing countries in Asia, as they present far bigger market opportunities.
While the outlook seems promising, there are numerous challenges involved with scaling up mobile health architecture in Asian economies, including the relatively underdeveloped technology infrastructure, unclear compliance policies, and lower accuracy of wearable devices. It will also be a learning curve for practitioners, patients and pharma brands, as they will have to evolve the traditional healthcare model to integrate digital channels and practices.
According to Dr Durand, even though the mHealth market could go on to provide actual clinical services, it will still need supervision from expert physicians and specialists.
“You can plug in a thousand devices, measuring all sorts of data, but the patient does not know how to make sense of it," he said. "Also, not all wearable devices are reliable and medically accurate. A patient still needs a qualified physician to understand the data and make better informed decisions.”
Posted in Asia Pacific Health IT