There are huge emerging opportunities for mobile healthcare in both China and the United States and the m-health market is likely to grow rapidly in these two countries in the coming years, a new report predicts.

M-Health a Growing Reality in China and the US

Given the number of Internet subscribers and the exponential penetration of mobile devices in China and the United States, these two countries appear to have the highest potential for growth in the mobile health sector. These are the findings of a report entitled ‘m-Health in China and the United States: How Mobile Technology is Transforming Healthcare in the World’s Two Largest Economies’ published by the Centre for Technology Innovation at the Washington DC-based based Brookings Institution. Pointing to problems such as the rising cost of medical treatment, chronic illnesses and disparities of access to care among ageing populations which the healthcare sector in many countries is facing, the report argues that the use of mobile technologies could provide valuable assistance to both practitioners and patients, thus improving the overall quality of medical care.

m-Health a promising sector

The Brookings Institution report points to analysts’ predictions that that the worldwide mobile health market is set to attain a total value of $23 billion by 2017. China and the United States are together likely to account for over a third of this figure, with the US m-health market reaching $5.9 billion and the Chinese market worth some $2.5 billion by that date. The report reveals that medical mobile apps and wearable devices are now growing particularly strongly in China. The Chinese medical monitoring services market looks highly promising and is estimated to be worth $1.2 billion by 2017, with 90% of those revenues coming from chronic disease management solutions. In fact monitoring services are likely to dominate the m-health market worldwide, representing 65% of its total turnover, ahead of diagnosis and treatment solutions. Meanwhile in the United States, mobile apps linked to the ‘Quantified Self’ movement have been a thriving segment, growing from 17% of the total m-health market in 2010 to 37% in 2012.

Obstacles still to be overcome

Nevertheless, applying mobile technologies to the health sector still faces some complex issues. The concept of mobile health has still not been fully accepted in all quarters in either China or the United States and if it is to function smoothly all the various players must be encouraged to work together. The Brookings analysts argue that “network operators, equipment manufacturers, users, service providers and hospitals need to work on growing the market and taking advantages of new opportunities afforded by mobile devices.” There are also policy and legal obstacles which are blocking the growth of m-health, notably how to organise reimbursement of mobile service providers and how to ensure that health insurance covers these services. There is moreover a serious lack of certainty regarding the way these new care solutions are regulated. At the moment many mobile m-Health apps in the United States are probably not subject to US government regulation as they do not currently fall into the medical category. So while the two largest economies in the world have the opportunity to benefit significantly from the advantages of mobile health, they will first of all need to find solutions to a range of fundamental issues, the Brookings Institution authors underline.

By Eliane HONG