M-health is proving a great success, but overall adoption is coming up against a number of obstacles which are hampering its development. If wholeheartedly implemented however, m-health solutions could lead to major efficiency improvements and cost savings in the EU medical sector and also boost GDP, says a recent report.

M-health can help meet EU medical sector challenges, boost GDP

In Europe, the health sector is finding it difficult to meet the challenge of the rising costs of healthcare for its people. With an ageing population and an increase in chronic diseases - due in large part to unhealthy lifestyles - the 9% of European Union GDP that is spent on health, 77% of which comes out of the public purse, could well prove insufficient in the near future. This is why, according to a recent report, m-health must be seen as the future and solutions must be put in place to develop the sector. The report, ‘The Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Health’, was drawn up by the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents mobile operators worldwide, in conjunction with business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. It reveals that m-health could enable 185 million patients across the EU to be treated more effectively and efficiently, with potential to prevent some 589,000 cases of chronic illness. The report nevertheless points to four obstacles which currently stand in the way of the further development of m-health.

Four obstacles

The first of the four major barriers to general adoption of m-health relates to regulation, especially an observed lack of clarity when it comes to data privacy legislation. Second, there are economic barriers in the sense that, as yet, there are no proper mechanisms for reimbursement through the national healthcare systems. Thirdly, GSMA-PwC identify structural barriers, pointing out that there is very little consistency in the approach to m-health solutions at the different levels of healthcare and also between regions. Fourthly, there are technological barriers - a general lack of awareness and understanding of the technologies behind m-health. These obstacles are, says GSMA-PwC, preventing m-health providers from contributing their solutions. The report estimates that the m-health approach, a significant advantage of which is to motivate patients to change their lifestyles in order to lower health risks, could help reduce cardiovascular problems and the incidence of chronic illnesses by 50% to 70%. M-health solutions are also designed to teach patients to manage their own conditions and help them to monitor their own symptoms. This in turn would help reduce complications arising from medical conditions in 50% of patients, and enable these same patients to look after themselves at home. In addition, implementing these solutions could reduce the cost of healthcare for elderly people by 45% and free up 30% of doctors’ and hospitals’ time, says the report.

Cost savings, GDP boost for EU

The report cites the example of Germany, where m-health could by 2017 benefit 30 million patients, save €16.3 billion in healthcare costs and also add €22.1 billion to GDP. Meanwhile Spain could by that same year make savings of €10.2 billion in healthcare costs and add €7.9 billion to GDP. In total, across the whole of the EU, €99 billion out of total healthcare costs estimated at €265 billion between 2013 and 2017 could be saved, 42 million days in doctors’ time could be freed up, and patient stays in hospital reduced by 169 million patient days. This means that some 24.5 million extra patients could be treated without training and recruiting any more doctors or constructing any new healthcare facilities, claims the report. In addition to the direct cost savings on medical treatment and care, m-health could help patients suffering from chronic or recurrent conditions to stay healthier and so improve their productivity, which would help to add €93 billion to EU GDP by 2017, estimate GSMA-PwC.

By Kathleen Comte