In the hallways of the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the US Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) annual gathering took place last week, cool apps, shiny gadgets, the 4G network and machine-to-machine (M2M) opportunities were dominating discussions.  But a closer listen revealed a growing conversation about how the wireless industry is using its networks and devices to transform healthcare.

An afternoon session, “Healthcare Everywhere”, organized by MobiHealthNews gathered venture capitalists, mobile operators, device manufacturers and healthcare companies to lend their perspectives on the wireless health market, which is projected to double in size next year.  The presentations focused largely on opportunities in wealthy countries, but the rationale and incentives cited apply in emerging markets as well.

In the U.S., for example, where 75% of healthcare costs result from chronic diseases, mobile health (mHealth), holds the promise of introducing a consumer-focused model of health services that, in the words of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Chief Innovation Officer Jay Srini, encourage a more “proactive, participatory, preventative and predictive” way of addressing health needs.

In emerging markets where chronic health conditions like diabetes and obesity are on the rise, the “4 Ps” advantage of mHealth also hold tremendous promise for advancing the health-related UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal mortality, improving children’s health and tackling specific diseases like HIV/AIDS.   Particularly in remote areas where access to hospitals or doctors is limited, low cost mHealth interventions can play a significant role in closing the health services delivery divide.

For example, a low cost mobile-compatible USB ultrasound probe enables remote health workers to capture and transfer images of fetuses even in the absence of hospital infrastructure.  And CellScope, a prior winner of the Vodafone Americas Foundation’s Wireless Innovation Project, can transform a cell phone into a microscope, enabling diagnoses at the ‘point of vision’.

Stay tuned for more flashpoints in mHealth innovation when the winners of the 2010 Wireless Innovation Project and the new mHealth Alliance Award are announced in April.

Whether in wealthy countries or emerging markets, the opportunity of mHealth offers a future of engagement and empowerment.  The conversation will continue at the mHealth Alliance and FNIH-organized mHealth Summit November 8-10 in Washington, D.C.

Adele Waugaman directs the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership and manages communications for the mHealth Alliance.

 Image: Flickr (UN Foundation)

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