Mobile operators are driving significant value for the healthcare industry by improving access, reach and quality to care across the entire patient pathway.

The findings come from a new report by the GSMA looking at the wider healthcare ecosystem, “Integrating Healthcare: The Role and Value of Mobile Operators in E-health,” which was released at the Mobile Health Summit in Cape Town yesterday (30 May) and is supported by data from the GSMA M-health Tracker.

“Over the past few years we’ve seen mobile operators delivering end-to-end healthcare solutions which have typically been provided by the traditional systems integrator but there is clear evidence supporting operators’ emerging role in e-health,” says Chris Locke, MD of the GSMA Development Fund. “Today operators have evolved and are best placed to deliver the solutions addressing the issues that the global healthcare industry faces, by lowering costs and making healthcare more accessible.”

The healthcare industry is undergoing a fundamental shift as demand from patients for services outside of traditional healthcare settings, such as hospitals and clinics, increases. This in turn is driving increased demand for m-health services, with the m-health market estimated to be worth $23-billion by 2017.

In addition, operators are also developing ICT capabilities that enable them to serve the larger e-health market, such as cloud-based medical records and imaging as well as in the provision of health information exchanges. This larger e-health market is estimated to be worth up to $160-billion by 2015.

Leading mobile operators are expanding beyond their core capabilities in consumer voice and data, to global business integration capabilities. They are now integral to areas such as cloud computing, enterprise collaboration, machine-to-machine integration and integrated payments to support core clinical and operational processes.

For example, the report highlights that Orange, in conjunction with GE, is integrating the imaging needs of the most populous region in France, connecting more than 90 hospitals and 500 radiologists and covering a patient base of more than 12-million individuals.

AT&T has also recently signed large deals providing health information exchange services to the Indiana Health Information Exchange, which includes more than 80 facilities, 19 000 physicians and 10-million patients; as well as in private sector Baylor Healthcare system in Texas.

The report provides a market evaluation framework for operators to assess the opportunities and challenges in this broader market.  The research also indicates that as mobile operators continue to develop their capabilities to connect people and businesses in increasingly more sophisticated ways, they will face a number of challenges.

Operators will need to build on their brands in order to differentiate themselves from existing ICT infrastructure providers; they will need to demonstrate their ability to deliver as new implementations have large financial and brand risks attached; and they will have to demonstrate the value that they bring to the e-health industry and end consumers in integrating the solutions both inside and outside of hospitals and clinic settings.

As the m-health industry continues to develop, there has been no comprehensive cataloguing of global m-health service deployment.

To address this, over the last nine months, the GSMA has tracked and analysed m-health products and services, and has created the GSMA M-health Tracker. Available online at Mobile Health Live, it provides data on more than 600 m-health products and services.

The following filters for the data are available: clinical need, service type, country, launch dates, organisation deploying the service. In future, the GSMA will track m-health services on their business models, technology types and evidence being generated.