Options do exist for achieving mHealth financial sustainability

Are mHealth initiatives financially sustainable? Who pays for mHealth, and at which stage is their investment most needed and appropriate? Those are the questions that a report from the mHealth Alliance and Vital Wave Consulting seek to answer, as mHealth technology grows more ubiquitous without a reliable gage for its impact. 

Using a value chain analysis framework at the stakeholder level, the report lays out the available options and opportunities for mHealth financial models in low and middle-income countries.  

"The lack of viable sustainable financial models for mHealth contributes to the challenges that implementers face," states the report. "While there are a variety of financial models currently in use for the hundreds of mHealth projects active in low and middle-income countries, there is general consensus that most of these projects rely too heavily on short-term grant funding from government, foundation and private-sector entities."

As a result, the report concludes, these models are not financially sustainable or scalable. To achieve financial sustainability, implementers must "successfully transition from operational dependence on funding to reliance on economic buyers (i.e., payers or purchasers)."

In addition, achieving financial sustainability requires "proactive monitoring and rebalancing of the value chain," according to the report, which emphasizes that sustainable financial models are contingent on a "deep understanding of ecosystem players, market dynamics, and each value chain members' incentives" specific to five mHealth application areas: demand and awareness; performance and accountability; quality monitoring; supply chain awareness; and financial barriers.

The report uses Nigeria and its Saving One Million Lives program as a case study for putting into practice the recommendations for each of the five mHealth application areas. "Examples of current mHealth projects, as well as the evolution of mHealth in Nigeria, suggest that there are several options for achieving financial sustainability," the report states.

In related news, two recent reviews published in PLoS Medicine found little evidence that mHealth is having a great impact on managing disease in developing countries. The problem is a lack of rigorous studies in low and middle-income countries. As the reviews point out, most existing evidence on the success of mHealth comes from trials performed in the developed world and is of poor quality.

To learn more:
- read the report