Price WaterHouse Coopers recently released a report entitled Emerging mHealth: Paths for Growth.

The report explores mHealth’s ability to make “health care more accessible, faster, better, and cheaper.”

The authors of the report state that mHealth is likely to surpass the capabilities of the Internet to impact health because of some unique aspects of mobile devices, which include:

  • Mobile devices are ubiquitous and personal
  • Competition will continue to drive lower pricing and increase functionality
  • Mobility by its very nature implies that users are always part of a network, which radically increases the variety, velocity, volume and value of information they send and receive

The goal of the report was to assess the state and potential of mhealth in developed and emerging markets, barriers to adoption of mHealth and implications for companies in the field.

The methods of acquiring this information include surveys and interviews.

Who was surveyed

PwC Global Healthcare commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to conduct two surveys, one of 1,027 consumers and another of 433 doctors (who work in the public and private sector) and 345 executives at health plans. The survey included 10 countries: Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

EIU performed in-depth interviews of senior executives from health care providers and payers, technology and telecommunications companies, industry organizations, experts from academia, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. Approximately half of the executives were from the private sector and half were from the public sector. PwC indicates that the 1,027 consumers surveyed were from a broad distribution of economic backgrounds, ages, levels of education and states of health.

Key Findings

So, what did PwC learn from this effort? The key findings are below for each of the three issues reviewed.

Potential and Current State of mHealth

Based on the survey, consumers (patients) have high expectations for mHealth. Approximately half predict that this technology will improve the convenience (46%), cost (52%), and quality (48%) of their healthcare in the next three years. Meanwhile, 6 in 10 docs and payers believe that its widespread adoption in their countries is inevitable in the near future, but most expect that adoption will take time. The amount of time is not clear from the results.

Patients and doctors in emerging markets are more likely to use mHealth applications or services. For people creating, using, or researching mHealth, this should come as no surprise. What may not be obvious is that more payers in emerging markets actually reimburse mHealth technologies based on the survey. The technology appears to be more successful in these markets because of the lack of land line or wired communication technologies – especially in rural areas – and because these markets have less medical technology industries to disrupt than developed countries.

Improving Health Care

The survey found that mHealth innovators may face some hurdles when trying to use the technology to improve health care. Only 27% of doctors encourage patients to use mobile health applications to become more active in managing their health, and 13% of physicians actually discourage it. This is perhaps the most important of the findings of this survey.

Physicians present a barrier to implementing this technology.

The survey does not identify why this is the case, but this finding should be a signal to those developing apps to spend more time assessing what the needs of health professionals are during the development stage so that resulting apps are more likely to be used or recommended by them.

On the other hand, many health related apps perform tasks that physicians don’t spend much time doing, even though they are relevant to health – such as calorie counting. Maybe physician uptake is not an important measure for many apps since the apps are not prescribed by physicians. The lack of use by physicians may also be a reflection of the lack of evidence guiding the clinical use of apps.

The survey revealed that 42% of payers, compared to 25% of physicians, encourage patients to let doctors monitor their health and activities using mobile health services and devices. So insurers, who stand to save money with medical apps, are more supportive of their use. Again, this is no surprise but empirical data to support this notion is useful.


The survey and interview findings revealed a number of barriers for the technology.

  • First, the health care industry’s resistance to change was viewed as a factor that will slow adoption of mHealth.
  • Second, the disruptive nature of the technology seemed to be of great concern and industries fighting against this disruption may slow adoption of the technology. PwC warns that in order for innovators to succeed, they must navigate culturally conservative, highly regulated and fragmented yet often monopolistic systems that often provide contradictory incentives.
  • Third, patients and providers may have opposing views of mHealth because mHealth takes some power away from docs and puts it in the hands of patients. This transfer of power will likely slow down the adoption of the technology by physicians. However, macroeconomic factors may overcome such barriers. The US federal government faces strong economic pressures to make health care more affordable, patient-centered, including preventive care. The fact that payers are supportive of this technology is a sign that the innovators in this sector are on the right track despite the barriers.

Future Opportunities

While the survey was not focused on opportunities, the findings point to some. First, emerging markets are ripe for innovators seeking to promote their mHealth technologies. The fact that private/public sector payers are willing to pay for this technology is a strong signal to find an emerging market that is friendly to the mHealth strategy that an innovator is creating.

Also, the survey points out that innovators must focus on solving payer problems and not just consumer problems because payers are providing the income for businesses if the price is too great for patients.