Notes from Dubai: mHealth Conference & Expo

By Brian Dolan

Below are some memorable quotes from some of the discussions that took place at Clarion Events' mHealth Conference & Expo in Dubai, UAE last week:

Dr. Nosa Orobaton, Deputy Executive Secretary, Health Metrics Network, World Health Organization: "Private leaership is absolutely instrumental for defining a business model [for mHealth deployments]. The public sector cannot solve mHealth challenges by itself -- but neither can the private sector. That's why it's important to bring both parties together to move mHealth forward. No matter where you are deploying an mHealth service, however, in any country you walk into whether it's Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan -- whereever -- there is such a thing as a health system in those countries. You are not operating in a vaccuum. Ignoring what's on the ground is setting yourself up for failure."

Colonel Ron Poropatich, MD, US Army: "Part of our mCare service are appointment reminders for our wounded warriors. There are more than 10,000 missed appointments every month among soldiers in the Army. The soldiers [using our mCare service] are in many cases injured soldiers with traumatic brain injuries. We send them appointment reminders the day before their appointment, an hour before or both... We are also about to pick a vendor for a Dengue Vaccine program that we just finished piloting. We should have that launched by May of next year... We always show a picture of a smiling physician when [marketing] mHealth services, but unless you make it easy for me to manage all that new information -- I promise you -- I won't be smiling."

Jonathan Javitt, MD MPH, CEO, Telcare: "The current business model for diabetes management comes down to the strip business. That is a $10 billion market worldwide. The minute you make blood glucose meters wireless-enabled with cellular technology -- all of the sudden, the mobile operator becomes central to it. There is $10 million in revenue at the center of this value chain. Why shouldn't the operator replace the pharmacy in the retail chain? There is a very real opportunity for mobile operators to do just that."

Shainoor Khoja, Director of Corporate Affairs, (Afghanistan mobile operator) Roshan: "In Afghanistan, a quarter of the children die before the age of five. About 600 children die everyday from preventable diseases. There is about one doctor for every 100,000 people in Afghanistan. In the modern world mHealth's focus is on convenience for consumers and saving time for healthcare workers. In the emerging world, mHealth's about providing access to healthcare, the most basic access that you and I take for granted. In the face of this, why not leverage our wireless network and that of our partners to our best advantages?" Besides training midwives via SMS, Roshan has also recently purchased a pair of wireless-enabled bikes that have a small screen embedded. The display unit will run clips of health information and tips as community health workers or physicians ride the bikes. The vehicles may also be used as an ambulance or by the care workers to make house calls.

Dr. Zakiuddin Ahmed, National Coordinator for Telemedicine & eHealth at Ministry of Health, Government of Pakistan: "In Pakistan there are between 25,000 and 30,000 physicians and specialists, but they are unevenly distributed throughout the country and mostly located in the urban areas. Some 80 percent of our population is left without basic healthcare. Our resources are limited... many factions are corrupted... there is a high cost of training healthcare workers... and there is the increasing burden of disease prevention. So we launched our Medical Call Center with [mobile operator] Telenor. It's an accessible, cost effective resource center where patients can call, email or SMS the center for telephone triage." The center recognizes the patient's number if they've called before and an electronic medical record (EMR) file is automatically called up by the system, Ahmed explained, so the healthcare worker answering the call can review patient history in real-time. The most common calls are for diarrhea and vomiting issues with children, fever due to infection, hepatitus inquiries and psychological issues typically related to sexual health issues, Ahmed said. The center has fielded more than 5.5 million calls during the past 2.5 years.

Dr. Ruchi Dass, Council Member, Healthcare, Gerson Lehrman Group: "You don't have to put sensors on your body to feel like you're a part of mHealth. In some parts of India, access to the most basic healthcare healthcare information should be the main focus. India has one of the biggest blind populations in the world. Many of these cases occurred because of a lack of resources to diagnose infections in children that eventually lead to blindness. With just the most basic diagnostic tools we could prevent a large number of those blind cases."