Phone companies chase profits, face medical heavyweights in m-health

We've reported plenty on how various telecommunications companies have been moving into mobile healthcare. Isn't it clear why?

"All telcos face the same challenge: the commoditization of our core business of voice and broadband," Alvaro Fernández de Araoz, director of corporate e-health at Spanish telecom Telefónica, says in a BusinessWeek feature story. "We see wireless health care as a major source of new growth." To many traditional phone companies, mobile health, content and advertising are their three most promising future revenue sources.

BusinessWeek ticks off a list of cellular carriers and other telecoms with plans for mobile healthcare: Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T, France Telecom's Orange, Vodafone, Sweden's Doro and, from Japan, NTT DoCoMo and KDDI. Of note, Vodafone's venture fund two years ago bought a stake in t+Medical, a wireless monitoring technology firm developed at Oxford University. Meantime, the big medical-equipment manufacturers, including GE Healthcare, Siemens and Philips, and tech heavyweights such as Intel are hard at work on wireless sensors, remote patient monitors and the mobile apps to transmit data to and from such devices.

"Wireless companies face a huge challenge because they are up against well-entrenched rivals that have been successfully selling technology in this market for years," Nicholas McQuire, a research director at IDC in London, tells the magazine.

Another barrier, of course, is the current healthcare reimbursement system. Many of the telcos have kicked off clinical trials to help demonstrate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of their technologies. "The profession wants to see that mobile technology not only works but that it improves patient outcomes and doesn't increase their workload," t+Medical founder Lionel Tarassenko explains.

For more:
- check out this BusinessWeek feature

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