Health care systems can benefit from disruptive change. This may be one of the pressing global challenges of our lifetime.

Add health care to the growing list of areas in which emerging markets are gaining influence proportionate to the size of their populations and the growth rates of their economies.

Emerging market leaders embody the leading edge of a rising public health crisis: the economic challenges of treating chronic health problems for a population greater than resources can accommodate.

The health care delivery models used in developed countries are not generally considered to be economically viable in these emerging nations. By the numbers alone, it is unrealistic to provide broad and inexpensive health care to meet demand through existing channels. Yet the same challenges now also confront developed nations, where it has become evident that the economics of health care are being reconsidered.

 Health care systems can benefit from disruptive change. This may be one of the pressing global challenges of our lifetime. And the emerging market nations are taking the lead in adopting effective solutions.

One of the most promising of these solutions is the intersection of mobile technology and health care—or mHealth—which leverages the ubiquitous use of mobile and wireless devices to improve the access, quality, and cost-effectiveness of health care.

Widespread global adoption of mHealth may be in the future, but its potential is being realized quickly in emerging markets. A recent study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by PwC found that nearly three in five patients in emerging markets already use at least one mHealth application or service, compared with just one in three patients in developed countries.1

Mobile technology can revolutionize health care by providing consumers with tools, information, choice, and control that empower them to take a larger role in managing their own health. Devices and services that wirelessly monitor health status, real-time drug delivery, and patient compliance make it possible to provide basic care and diagnostics in a way that is less costly, more convenient, and accessible in far-flung villages and towns.

Many of the health systems in emerging markets are still evolving and lack the infrastructure, sunk investments, and entrenched interests found in more mature systems. Unencumbered by the status quo, these nations, with their young, de novo health systems, can more readily adopt pioneering models of care and product innovation.

The slower rate of adoption in developed nations, despite the plethora of new applications and investments pouring into this field, results from structural, cultural, and regulatory hurdles that make revolutionary change a more complex undertaking. For example, the research found that only one in four doctors in developed nations encourage their patients to use mHealth—and a significant number of doctors actively discourage it.

Resistance from the health care establishment may be less about obstinacy than about the need for greater confidence in embryonic business models that have yet to be proven in health care.

mHealth could be the most disruptive force in medicine in our lifetime. Empowering consumers with data, information, knowledge, and wisdom helps them to manage their health and wellness in ways never before imagined. This is a version of consumer-centric health care that has long been discussed but rarely delivered. Yet, it is disruptive. Conventional approaches to health care, which typically have placed consumers at the periphery, may soon no longer apply.

For guidance, health care industry participants should look to the consumer transformation in other industries that have been highly disrupted by the business model and technical innovation that mobility enables. While these other industries, such as media, retail, entertainment, and information technology, have different fundamental drivers of change than health care, they share the common innovation challenges associated with empowered consumers.

Health care has much to learn from these industries. At the same time, it must be understood that there is an implied social contract in the provision of health care that differentiates it from other commercial goods and services. Telecommunications, technology, and related companies need to understand the health care perspective and focus their energy on the evolution of mHealth—not as an ancillary technology, but as a solution to the greatest global challenge of our lifetime.

With ongoing pressure to bend the health care cost curve and improve health outcomes in both emerging and developed markets, and as health care converges around consumer expectations, mHealth will be in the future of health care, not as an appendage as some believe, but deeply embedded into care delivery.

Systemic challenges need to be overcome before the potential of these technologies can be fully realized in developed economies. If that is going to happen, it will require the efforts of all stakeholders—regulators, patient advocates, traditional health care organizations, and new market participants—pursuing growth in the mHealth space.

Now is the time to close the gap between the availability of mHealth technologies and the willingness of traditional health care systems to embrace them as quickly as consumers want—and as economics demand. Health care industry participants in developed nations need to take a page from their counterparts in emerging markets, embrace a leadership role, and promote the adoption of technologies that can add genuine value.

1PwC commissioned the EIU to conduct two surveys, one of more than 1,000 consumers and another of 433 doctors and 345 payers from the public and private sectors in 10 countries: Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US. The results were published in the June 2012 report, “Emerging mHealth: Paths for growth,” accessible at:


Chris Wasden

Chris Wasden is the global health care innovation leader at PwC, where he focuses on helping biopharmaceutical, life science, and medical device companies and providers and payers develop and execute growth and innovation strategies. He has led nine start-ups, is a named inventor on 20 patents and has authored more than 20 reports on innovation. He has a doctorate in human and organizational learning from George Washington University in Washington, DC.



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