Onward, Singapore — In almost every region around the world, you can find some version of “The mHealth Report.” It’s a compilation of observational research, projections and corollaries that show how giving more people mobile tools designed to support their health could improve access, outcomes, and efficiencies. Whether it’s an aging population dealing with a shift in interventions from acute care to continuous care (Brazil, Singapore) or a very young nation with a strong need for more diagnostic and triage care (Kenya, Afghanistan), someone has done the math.

new PwC report says that mHealth could give 28.4 million more people access to the healthcare system in Brazil. Another pointed to how near-universal mobile penetration in all developed markets, including South Korea, Australia, the US, the UK, will be our new tipping point. A Brookings report found unheard of systemic efficiencies in Africa, including reducing the paperwork and wait time for critical HIV drugs from eight hours to five minutes. A Columbia study cataloged the emerging mHealth trends (possibilities) around the world, including a dramatic lift in adherence in Peru when a pilot program paired new prescriptions with SMS reminders.

The key word: Pilot.

The challenge isn’t finding the right research, the right clues. It’s creating a critical mass of action. One that extends beyond the interesting pilot to broad mHealth.

It looks like that’s happening first in Asia-Pac, specifically in the relatively small countries of Singapore and Japan. There, targeted programs and big moves by telecom leaders are putting smartphones and smart mHealth tools in the hands of seniors.

Singapore, first. It’s one of the most rapidly-aging countries in Asia. And, with that aging population has come a whole new list of societal challenges. At the top of that list is depression. Many of the aging seniors are isolated and lonely. It’s a trend that’s been called “the silent killer” and the cause of a whole range of other health problems.

That’s where Project Silverline comes in. It’s a first-of-its-kind mHealth program designed to combat isolation. It runs off a steady flow of donated used iPhones that are refurbished with specially designed senior-friendly apps that help users feel inspired, connect with their care givers and loved ones, take care of their health and discover new experiences every day.

That project was supported in part by Singtel, the region’s giant telecom provider. It’s not their only mHealth investment. Others include a major partnership with HP, medical device maker HealthSTATS, and Singaporean health provider Frontier Healthcare to bring the Mobile Health (mHealth) Monitoring Solution to market to unite doctors and patients in managing chronic diseases.

In Japan, their lead telecom is also playing a lead role. NTT Docomo is partnering with the healthcare infrastructure to get both disease management and emergency smartphone-based tools to its aging citizens. The investment is deep enough to have its own P&L – NTT Docomo teamed up with medical equipment manufacturer Omron Healthcare to launch a new wireless and mobile healthcare venture, called Docomo Healthcare. It provides wireless links to various Omron devices, including blood-pressure cuffs, sleep monitors and body composition scales, allowing consumers to upload personal data to the cloud via smartphones.

NTT has also taking a lead in creating original tools and content, including one app I think we’d all like to download: A calorie counting app that works from just a photograph of what’s on your plate. It evaluates the color and shapes of food, then compares it with a database and counts the calories.

Some of the top mHealth apps in Japan have earned 1.79 million downloads in the Apple App Store alone.

The growth of mHealth infrastructure in this region points to three key indicators of how the trend will grow. Watch for these signs in other countries around the world:

  •  Telecom takes the wheel: Mobile phone providers have unique access to both their customers devices and their data. That gives them the unique opportunity to quickly create native apps and track which are really changing lives. A few interesting models to watch: Vodaphone is uber focused on seniors; TurkCell is providing powerful healthcare solutions (like SMS to expectant moms) that don’t require any involvement from physicians; Etisalat has given itself a specific outcomes goal: meet the Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5) which seeks to reduce maternal mortality in childbirth by 75% and deliver universal access to reproductive health by 2015.
  • Healthcare providers see the impact they can have on uptake:Sure, a lot of doctors don’t want more data in the exam room, but their endorsement means a lot to their patients. A recent poll of 600 Baby-boomers conducted by Mitchell Research and Communications found that 5% would download a health app recommended by their friends; 18% would download an app recommended by their family; 60% would download an app recommended by their doctor.
  • The “pig in the python” technology adoption curve flattens: That phrase was a favorite of one of our long-time collaborators, Gretchen Goffe. It basically means a big fat bump in the middle of your curve. As far as technology goes, that bump has aways been 30 -and 40-year olds – the people with the disposable income and sense of confidence/adventure that makes them the most likely to own the newest gadgets. For mHealth to thrive, that curve has to flatten. Project Silverline went about flattening it by giving seniors smartphones. The adoption curve for the iPad shows that it can happen more naturally – when the technology is intuitive and affordable enough.

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at trends.health)

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.