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Asia Moving in On Telehealth Market

November 28, 2011

We tend to think of ourselves as the most advanced, forward-thinking country and continent in the world. But Asia is sneaking up on us in how mobile technology is changing healthcare there. 

A story at siliconindia.com reports that mobile technologies will be “increasingly deployed to enable people in Asia to monitor and manage their health.”

And their healthcare spending, though light years away from ours at $247 trillion, is expected to hit $7 billion by 2017, says an industry official in the story. Fifty-five percent of that amount would involve health monitoring services and 24 percent, diagnostic services, according to the story. 

For some time, in parts of Europe and the United States, diabetics have been able to monitor their blood sugar levels remotely by punching daily readings into their mobile phones that are then transmitted to their doctors, according to a story at tmcnet.com and soon it will be happening in Asia, too, according to the story.  China is leading the pack.

Jeanine Vos heads the mobile health unit at Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA). She says in the siliconindia.com story that such technologies are definitely finding their way into Asia. GSMA represents nearly 800 mobile operators around the world and 200 other mobile-related companies such as handset makers, software, media and Internet companies.The $7 billion figure came from a study conducted by GSMA and PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to the story, and will be released in full in December.

Who will gain from the expansion of mobile technologies for healthcare purposes?  Mobile operators, device manufacturers, software developers and healthcare providers, Vos told siliconindia.com. Companies already providing such services include France Telecom's Orange, Japan's NTT Docomo and India's Apollo Hospitals.Vos noted that China, with nearly 5 billion connected devices by 2020, would be a key driver of this growth, adding that “mobile applications can be used in many parts of Asia to help doctors make diagnoses and monitor patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.” Vos also sees demand for tracking devices that can be worn by Alzheimer's patients.

In what is being called the largest remote health monitoring project in the world, a Canadian mobile health technology company, Ideal Life, is teaming with a Chinese pharmaceutical and medical-supply distributor to build a network of interactive kiosks and remote monitoring devices for 100,000 people with chronic diseases in China, according to a story by Neil Versel at FierceMobileHealthcare. "The healthcare challenges and needs are highly diverse across the region. A key challenge is in (achieving) adoption by governments and medical professionals," Vos said in the story. "To reach scale and adoption, what will be important is that governments and regulators across the region promote policies that enable healthcare reform to be supported by mobile technologies." 

Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves