Interview with David Doherty from 3G Doctor

Download interview or listen to it

About the interview

David Doherty is the Head of Business Development at 3G Doctor, an innovative mHealth startup based in Ireland. Following studies in Medicine at University College Hospital in London, David began to research and design a remote care solution that would provide patients with a means of private and economical access to the attentions of a registered Doctor. The rapid adoption of 3G Video Phones in the UK and Ireland has created this new point of care for more than 8 million patients.

3G Doctor provides a service to the public offering informed consultations with registered Doctors using 3G Video Mobiles. 3G Doctor also provides free tools that help patients securely create, manage and share their important health information using their mobile phone.

David gave a presentation at the eHealth 2008 Conference at City University London titled “Connected Care: Adding Value to the Electronic Record”:

He got in touch with Mohammad after hearing about HealthCamp UK and looks forward to getting involved in the next event.

Transcript of interview

Dr. Mohammad Al-Ubaydli: ok well we have a podcast today and my guest is David Doherty from 3G Doctor. David Thank you very much for being on the phone with me today.

DD: thank you Mohammad

Who are you? How did you get started in all this?

MAU: David I’ve spoken to you a couple of times previously and I just found your work in the company that you are doing very interesting and the thing I was most fascinated by was that I thought I understood mobile phone technology I thought I was obsessed

and then I read your blog and you really understand this area and I was just learning so much from reading what you were doing. So I just thought that if I could invite you and to have you tell us the work that you are up to and what 3G Doctor does that would be terrific. so tell us tell us your background, Who are you and How did you get started in all this?

DD: Well thank you very much Mohammad for the introduction. My name is David Doherty, I’m the Business Development guy for a small company called 3G Doctor. I actually started out there at UCL in London studying Medicine – it was about the same time that you were also starting your career there at Cambridge. And whilst I found out that UCL was the UK’s most innovative Medical School, it was obvious to me that the medical industry itself was very poorly suited to harnessing some of the benefits that the rapidly evolving ICT industry was creating. I had always been very aware of the benefits of telecoms in healthcare – indeed my first recollections of Doctors involved a time where my younger brother was ill in hospital and I still vividly remember that there was a certain noise the Doctors made.., to me they were always ‘jangly people’ <Mohammad laughing> and it was like an almost unsaid part of their job to have this huge white coat pocket full of change for the telephone and this was situated at the end of the ward, if you were very lucky, or more likely it was in the main lobby-atrium of the Hospital… where there was obviously always an enormous queue of patients. A good doctor would even be expected to proffer these to parents when breaking news – as if to say “here call your family, set everything up, let them all know”. Now I was always very aware of the unique equity that this telephone as a communication channel was providing and it was this that led to my immediate fascination with the very first mobile phones. Actually my memory of my first year at Medical School was kind of feint but I certainly remember my Mobile phone – it was the first of it’s kind – a brand new a Sony mars bar phone, the Sony CM H333. Completely first of its kind a very small analogue phone and it was about then that I began to realize the potential of this new Mass Media to be used for Healthcare and the exciting rate of innovation and adoption that was leading up to the convergence of absolutely every electronic personal device to this one, personal, always carried device just seemed so exciting, and it seemed to me that it was obvious that this was the device that would bring together the benefits of the ICT industry to serve Patients and enable a connected Health Future that I could somehow visualize… and it’s been since that realization really where it’s been very easy to stick with this because the innovation is seemingly incomparable to anything else we’ve seen in industry, Since I’ve gone mobile, 4 Billion other people have also become connected and the mobile content industry itself in a less than 10 year history now has grown to revenues of over $70 Billion – annual revenues so it’s an enormous industry. And I’m pretty certain that Mobile Health is going to be responsible for a large part of the next phase of this industry’s growth, particularly as these very powerful personal devices begin to serve the needs of new audiences, such as the more senior and for other purposes like pervasive healthcare and pervasive monitoring. And my work is focused on being a part of this movement that is trying to make this happen.

What does your company do?

MAU: Great so lets talk about that because what I was struck by your company is that it was doing something that it seemed very impressive and very useful but I  had assumed when I went to your website that this was a futuristic thing but this is actually working now so as a patient I could make use of this now and as a practicing Doctor I could have made use of this now as well. Tell us what your company does.

DD: Yes I see, you are completely right there. 3G Doctor is a mHealth company that basically offers a mobile experience for members of the UK and Irish public and it enables them to create, manage and share their important health information AND have confidential convenient access to the advice of informed registered Doctors for when they need explanations, advice, reassurance and whenever possible obviously a diagnosis. For Doctors what we’re offering is an opportunity for a flexible working relationship with patients where they are provided the premedical history and provided access to a patient at a time when the patient wants to talk to them and basically they can support these patients in a home environment, in their office at times when maybe demand is lower or to fit an alternative lifestyle that they have, for example extended maternity leave, so that’s really the place where we’re working on.

What do people do with your product(s)?

MAU: okay so let’s get a example of a patient that would use this. What is the typical patient that would use this and how would they begin using your product?

DD: to begin using it they would simply get themselves a 3G mobile phone, use the internet browser on that mobile phone and go to the site and straight up register, so enter their personal information and then top up with a credit in order to talk with a Doctor and then whenever they want to use it they simply authorize their credit to be taken, complete a medical interview, which uses a technology produced by Primetime Medical called ‘Instant Medical History. This interviews the patient prior to our Doctor consulting with them. The Doctor is provided with that report, securely opens up that report and reviews that before consulting with the patient. So for example if a patient has seen something on the internet that they wonder if it applies to them, they can provide the information about themselves, they can provide the HTTP URL for the site where they have been reading this information. They provide that to our doctor at anytime 24 hours 7 days a week and our Doctor can review that information before getting in touch with them by making a 3G Video Call to their mobile phone. So for the patient, basically all they have to do is answer the phone, consult with the informed Doctor and then further to that the Doctor makes a written report based on the information that the patient gave, based on the advice they gave during the session and that’s sealed and entered into that patients secure portal. So all the patient needs to do is again sign in using their mobile number and the unique password they’ve created and they can download, print, forward that information from that doctor. So for example  if the  URL was related to some bogus website and it is purely misinformation  our doctor would be able to make that very clear to the patient but also go on to advise the patient on other things they might benefit from looking at, for example some of the associations or the Pubmed website where there are qualified peer reviewed documents about the particular information, the patient can get that information they can go and share that with family members their personal doctor and they can just have it for their own records.

MAU: So let’s go through that step by step then, the first step is that I need to find a 3G mobile phone

DD: Yes.

MAU: and so, and you’re talking presumably not just that it does broadband but it can do video calls as well, is that correct?

DD: Yes, in the UK there are over 10 million people who have 3G mobiles and are living within 3G network reception

MAU: Okay

DD: When they are using these phones where they would see the normal sort of antenna signal quality level they also see the 3G symbol – that means they are in area where they can make a video call, the mobile internet revolution is happening and most of these phones are now coming straight out of the box with access to the internet, and what we have is a site which detects that you are actually trying to log in from a mobile device on a mobile network and it provides you with a mobile optimized site.

MAU: Okay I see, so you definitely want me to come to your site with my phone rather than registering online

DD: You can do either, the service detects whichever device you are on, and gives you a site that is more optimized to the device you are on. there are no restrictions a patient can engage with the service and complete the medical history and review that information all online but we take the call onto the mobile phone – we think that’s quite important because for example if I wasn’t too well, had a minor issue and wanted to sit at home on the internet I might not want to wait the half hour sitting there in front of the computer waiting for the doctor to video call me back through

MAU: Yes

DD: As well as that it’s obviously a lot more complicated for people to have to go and buy a web cam, to buy an isdn line maybe, you know to get all these things fixed, whereas simply you can just go into a phone store on your local high street and pick up one of these devices and you’ve got it all.

MAU: Right so let’s do cost of that. because there is going to be, you have to get the phone, you have to get internet access on your phone for filling out the forms, you need to do a 3G Video Phone Call, and then there is the cost of actually using the service with 3G Doctor itself so if I was going to start out today, say sort of a typical, perfectly good 3G Video Phone, how much would that set me back? If I was starting out today?

DD: Depending on obviously you know the particular package you get, most people in the UK currently have a phone, we’ve actually got penetration rates of over 100% so most people have a phone.

MAU: Yes

DD: If you can’t get one get one from your son or your daughter, they’ve probably got…

MAU: They’ve got a better one than you already!

DD: Indeed some of the second hand ones are even better, the idea is that these phones are being subsidized by network operators, so in terms of comparative between having a 3G phone and having a fixed line there is a huge cost saving to cutting the cord and making the shift to mobile and that basically also is part of the being able to keep control of the costs. With a fixed line there is a standard subscription to the service with a 3G mobile on a pay as you go contract there is none. I don’t have to have a certain amount of money I also don’t have to have credit or even a fixed address. I mean a lot of the people who might want to use this service actually live in short term accommodation, maybe while they are at college or working away from home and that might mean that they might not even have a fixed postcode never mind a fixed line – so in terms of that there is another benefit there. But essentially what you’re looking at is a subsidized device, obviously the networks make their money every time you send a message, every time you make a call, every time someone makes a call to you, so it can subsidize the cost of the device so for example you go in and you can get free devices or you can get heavily subsidized devices, 3G phones for something like £30 brand new.

MAU: That’s a 3G phone with Video for less than £50 is quite difficult…

DD: I’ve seen devices being sold for that money in the UK

MAU: ok and we’ll get a couple of recommendations from you afterwards

DD: yes yes (eBay is one of the UK’s leading source of cheap 3G Mobiles, online discounts and clearances from Phones 4U and Carphone Warehouse are also worth checking).

MAU: Okay

DD: Obviously local high street stores they’ve sometimes got, for example Carphone Warehouse do a return policy where within 28 days if you’re not happy with the device you’ve got you can hand it back to them and that obviously means there’s a lot of as good as new devices which have often been reconditioned on the almost new market. So for example in the Carphone Warehouse store on Oxford Street near you, you will actually be able to find sort of blister wrapped mobile phones which are 2 weeks old, and there are some in their original packaging.

MAU: That’s a very good tip so you can definitely get a perfectly good model for less than £50 and then you start using the service, so internet access, I think for the back and forth of just using your service it shouldn’t cost more than £5 in total I would have thought right? It’s just entering information it’s not that data intensive am I right in that?

DD: In terms of data on a mobile phone, a lot of the mobile networks are currently marketing to try and bring people into this to use their mobiles as an internet access device, to read their email on the go and most of them are offering this at a cost of £10 per month capped data. On contract phones they are offering it free as part of the contract (eg. Vodafone) obviously it’s a really competitive market, buyers should shop around. But for example Virgin Mobile have just done a deal where it’s no more than 30p a day – so if you don’t use the mobile internet at all and you’ve got a Virgin mobile phone when you go on there the most it’s going to cost you to browse our site and any other sites you want will be 30p per day.

MAU: so it’s £9 per month, sorry I’m getting my math’s wrong now aren’t I? It’s £9 a month.

DD: If you were using it in that way

MAU: if you were using it for 30 days every day

DD: Yes, but if it’s an episodical thing if you are going to use this once every 6 months < Yeah > that’s probably a better way to do it. But if it’s something you’re going to be using quite heavily for your internet access and stuff then things like that then obviously £5 a month caps is the way to go.

MAU: Okay, so that’s, I nearly find that as an almost trivial cost, the next one is the making the actual phone call, 3G mobile video phone call, so lets say a consultation is how long, say 15 minutes? Is that right?

DD: Yeah maybe, what we find is that because we’re only consulting at the moment for non urgent enquiries and a lot of the information that the Doctor is sending is like now when we’re talking a lot of the information will be in links that I can send you after the conversation, so this cuts down on a lot of the time. I don’t need to explain a document to you if I’m going to send you a link to it.

MAU: Yeah

DD: …and so the consult time is actually reduced quite a lot and the patient has no problem and neither does the doctor in terms of that, what we’ve also done through an obvious need to try and make this service accessible using a pay as you go mobile, because most people in the country have a pay as you go mobile, as opposed to a contract phone and that means that as you can imagine someone may run out of credit on their phone midway through the consultation

MAU: Yes

DD: So what we’ve done to try and make the price inclusive, we’ve actually taken that cost away from the patient by giving it over to the Doctor.

MAU: Ah I see.

DD: So the doctor is making the video call to the patient. the patient can have no credit whatsoever on their phone, as long as they’ve got a nice topped up battery and they’re in a good 3G area, they can go online using a PC or their mobile, fill in the info on our secure site and then the Doctor will Video call them on their 3G Video Mobile Phone.

MAU: So I’ve got a nice capped cost for the consultation and that’s the upfront fee that I pay. So how much do I pay to 3G Doctor for every one of these consultations?

DD: £35

MAU: £35 that’s…

DD: Yes and for that you get your use of the service, you get the use of the questionnaire, which is an interactive branched questionnaire built up from drop down menus making for a very easy user experience on the mobile and then as a result of that, you get the doctor reviewing your information, taking their time to understand the issues that are at play, some of the links that you may have included in your request, and then obviously making a 3G Video call to you and then providing you with the written report within your portal. So that’s an all inclusive price of £35 per consultation.

MAU: And to remind everyone again, I still am surprised by this, this is available today, I could just sign up for it today by myself, this is really wonderful. And so give us a couple of examples of where people find it useful, you said this is for non urgent care so it won’t be if for you if you have any chest pain but, give us a couple of examples of how patients find it useful?

DD: It’s really, absolutely any medical concern that you may have that’s non urgent, so we’re very strict about how we market the service. It’s not meant to be a replacement for a family doctor but you can use it for any other reason. A lot of people are sitting there browsing on the internet, tip tapping away at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and they are finding out things. You’ll no doubt know yourself, from your own time practicing as a Doctor, anytime, anywhere access to the advice of a registered Doctor is more popular than cheap holidays quite frankly, and as our lives become increasingly time poor we’re very lucky to have one of the easiest products to sell and our focus is on knowing this and making sure that we provide this service with the utmost care and understanding. These are very early days and you know we’re not trying to hype this service up, we’re still learning – hopefully by listening to people like you and teaming up with the right people we’ll be able to continue to stay ahead of the curve. But these are very early days for Video Calling and for Mobile Healthcare.

Why do they find it useful?

MAU: I’m going to ask you about that in a second but let’s get an example because I’m now excited about using your product myself so. I am deaf and I use a hearing aid and so one of the things I’ve heard and read about is that you can get a Cochlear implant or alternatively a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) two different devices to the normal hearing aid and I would like to talk to a doctor about it and it’s a non urgent call. I just read about it on the internet, what should I do? So presumably this is an example of something I could do with your service, is that right?

DD: Yes absolutely. Whilst you can be sure a family Doctor has some experience of these Cochlear implants, what would be really helpful though, because the patient has access to the link where they’ve been reading this information on, or the brochure, and by giving us across that information what it provides our Doctor with is the opportunity to look at information, is it some sort of sales pitch? And then they can go to the RNID website and see what are these guys are saying about that. So our doctor can sit there, take their time to try and understand this market, say look you know this is the information, this is what we should be advising, this information is correct, this information is not correct, and then video call that patient when that doctor is informed through who that patient is, what they feel they need, what their medical history is and then you know the rest is then advice that you are giving to these people so it’s not, one of the few things that confuses me about the way the GP consult works today is that a patient comes in and typically puts the doctor on the spot.. and says come on < yeah > “I’ve been researching this for days, weeks even months and I now want you to make a decision within a few minutes while I’m watching you”.

MAU: while I’m watching you fiddle with the computer system

DD: Yeah I mean when I put my car into the garage I don’t wait for the guy to fix it and watch him as he gets the wrong spanner out of his case before picking the correct one, so it’s a very highly stressed position that the doctor is being put in and there may have been lots of research done by the patient prior to that so it’s almost as though we’re trying to show that the doctor is all knowing when nobody can be all knowing. What this provides is not an immediate interaction between the doctor and patient it’s a store and forward solution and there is a huge benefit to that and it gives the Doctors time to look at that, some people are always concerned about “when will the doctor call me back?”, well you’re on your mobile phone so it’s not critical and it’s non urgent, so it’s not critical that he rings you straight away. You’ve also given him quite a lot of information, that you’ve taken your time to consider before sending him, maybe even some internet sites that you’ve spent hours trying to understand, find etc etc.. so you don’t want the doctor to call you back straight away, you want the doctor to consolidate their thoughts, read the information that you’ve provided to  them, and get back to you with an informed judgment on that. Basically what we’re doing is putting a doctor with you who is independent, they’re not selling you hearing aids, so there is no sales position here our doctor is simply acting a bit like for example your Uncle who might be a Doctor, might give you the advice. “this is what I think is better for you, I’m not going to sell you it but I think you should have a look at this”.

MAU: I think we’re seeing a change in health care from the point of a doctor being the knowledge of the doctor to the value that the doctors judgment. So it’s them going through material with you, in their own time, they don’t have to know everything, they’re not supposed to know everything, but the judgment they bring to the conversation is the real value of the Doctor

DD: I think you have hit the nail on the head there very well Mohammad

What do you advise people as they begin using your product(s)?

MAU: Until, lets, as I begin doing this do you have any advice for me, if I’m going to submit some information to my Doctor is there anything I should do when I’m doing the submission?

DD: No just take your time, the entire service is quite intuitive so it will ask you for your important medical information. This is a system that’s been developed by Primetime Medical in the US for about 25 years now and it’s a very large 0.8 million question and answer database, a subset of which you would take the path of. And what it means is that before the consultation the doctor will be provided with a summary in a standard format and we’re using software to gather subjectively the history prior to the encounter so the patient doesn’t need know what they need to reveal, obviously if there is information like cochlear implant information written online or in a brochure from a particular company, that information can be provided and that’s a great starting point for a conversation. So an ideal case scenario you’ve picked there.

What have you learned from watching your customers?

MAU: So you’ve already mentioned this, that you’re learning everyday as you use the technology and just see people using it. What have you learned from watching your customers use 3G Doctor?

DD: That they want to own their own health information, and that we as healthcare providers should be in the business of providing this together with easily manageable tools that can help them make sense of it AND then on top of all of that and most fundamental to it all we’ve got to be there – wherever there is – for them when they need our support. That’s the key I think

MAU: So when you say “owning their own healthcare”, at the end of this they get everything, a copy of everything in their email or names and so on about what they’ve been up to. Do they get any type of follow up, so for example if they use 3G Doctor one day and then 2 weeks afterwards they use it for something else, do they get a continuous record of what they’re up to? Or is it all just supposed to be for one off interactions and not for replacement of your GP as you said?

DD: It’s not a replacement and we do deal – as you say – episodically, so people who want the advice of a Doctor, they want that advice episodically. One thing we don’t do that you mentioned was emails, we don’t send emails, they sit on disks, hard drives in computers that are thrown out and things like that. All of our service works within a secure portal. So the patient goes in there and it’s in there that they can see the reports from their Doctors, so if they had a report 2 weeks ago or 6 months ago it will be in there and when our doctors consult with them they can review any prior reports.

What do people worry about about that they should not?

MAU: Yes, and so as people experiment with this service I’m sure they have all sorts of worries that what you find out is that most of them aren’t actually necessary. So what do people worry about that they should not?

DD: We’ve found it’s a little bit like this conversation, a lot of patients worry that they won’t be able to remember the information or the take away advice that they are getting during the consultation. So for example you know you’ve asked for me to send you these URLs afterwards, with this service this isn’t necessary as we always provide a written report with every Doctor consultation that we offer through the 3G Doctor service. And this details the advice given by the Doctor including any URLS that we may ask patients to refer to. So one of the problems is there are huge reams of publications uncovering how much a patient remembers of a doctor consultation and these are always very embarrassing, but by having the written report to go away with its obviously better, and one of the key things there is obviously a cost  to Doctors in conventional practice for making this report, whereas what we’re doing is utilizing possibly the most underutilized member of our healthcare system, the Patient, to create 90% of this medical document. So it’s the answers that the patient gave to the questionnaire that provides the subset on which this medical report is built. So the patient sees their own information back to themselves, sometimes that can also be quite enlightening. Often when you’re answering questions to an individual – you might ask with intonations or they may be considering your judgment of them as an individual, whereas with selecting a drop down answer to a question on a mobile phone you can be a lot more honest. We find things like sexual histories for example, patients are a lot more honest when on a personal mobile phone than when conveniently speaking with a middle aged GP in a clinic setting. But that information once it’s into the report makes a fantastic document for that individual to take onto their family GP. “Look I talked about this depression on Saturday Night with a Doctor on this mobile 3G Doctor service, here’s the report” and the doctor can immediately see that this is a document produced by a Doctor with our service who is named on that document and they can all the patient answers in the medical history questionnaire the level and severity of their depression, how they felt on Saturday night and I’ve now got an extensive idea of how this patient felt on Saturday night and they’ll also have a brief analysis from the Doctor who met with that patient. So as an ongoing document, going to a GP with this document it’s a very useful tool for the patient.

MAU: that’s very powerful and again it shows that this is supposed to be a complimentary service to a GP rather than a replacement. But just as you mentioned submitting data I remember just reading about software like Eliza, you know from the 60’s it was very early supposedly artificial intelligence software that just answered back to the patient whatever thing just told it and it would ask you a question about it. And I remember Psychiatrists using this in there waiting room because the patients would use it as just a kind of game but they would tell the computer things they would never tell the psychiatrist face to face but when the psychiatrist would review that just a couple of minutes before the patient came in it just makes the interaction so much more useful for everyone else involved. So I can see the intimacy of the mobile phone really facilitating that even further.

DD: Yeah was that Dr Sbaitso?

MAU: Oh no what is that?

DD: I had that in about 1994 on a PC – it was taking up the entire memory it was this interactive thing where patients could have conversations and it found that from these conversations and the lines of enquiry that people would have with these pretend characters – something I didn’t follow up on – a lot of this questionnaire technology led onto that but what we’re using is a very different thing. All our software is used to do is the gathering of a subjective history it’s not diagnosing or having conversations with patients some people are fearful that this is trying to replace the Doctor but the software we use Instant Medical History, it has no element of that whatsoever, it just provides it in a familiar format, typically if you give a patient a computer screen and you say “tell me what’s wrong with you?” they don’t know whether to write one line or 6 pages. And what this questionnaire format does is lets them select answers to questions and obviously if they don’t select that they have concern in a certain area they don’t get asked to answer questions about it and so they can shortcut through and so the questionnaire takes as long as they have a medical history.

MAU: Yeah

DD: Patients with a brief medical history are going to be very quick, but it also means our Doctors who are like most and just haven’t got the time and wherewith it all to just sit there asking these very very routine questions and what this does is it makes sure that when the Doctor meets with this patient they’ve already been asked these questions and their answers are there.

MAU: I remember when I was doing my GP training the thing that the trainers were most trying to get medical students to do was to just shut up, just wait for the patient to give the history, and study after study shows that even though the most useful thing you can do with your patient is to just stay quiet until they’ve finished telling you their history it’s still the average of about 7 seconds before the Doctor interrupts anyway. So given that relaxed history taking approach is very powerful and it’s augmenting the physician not replacing their work

DD: Yes

MAU: Okay so let’s do the reverse of that question then. So what do people not worry about that you think they should worry about when they use this kind of service?

DD: The quality of advice that is being given online. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there are lots of charlatans out there and on the world wide web there’s even more, and one of the biggest problems is that their business model makes it sensible for them to make themselves absolutely accessible and open all hours – and that’s much more so than a Family Doctor could ever possibly want to be in spite of efforts. What we’re doing is trying to help bridge this gap, it is a big problem for the family Doctor relationship when patients are being influenced by unaccountable online misinformation. And we think this is one of the challenges that we’re serving. The patients should really be concerned that they’re using the official association websites, that they’re using for example the NHS direct website, that they’re using the benefits of qualified registered Doctors, and people have put their names to things, this is very important as there is an awful lot of anonymous contactless services on the internet that patients can be misled by.

MAU: Every report that comes back to the patient has the name of a GMC registered doctor, saying this is what I am telling you, in writing.

DD: Absolutely

What do you wish I asked you?

MAU: What do you wish I asked you that I haven’t asked you yet about the service?

DD: How we think we could benefit from HealthCamp…. what we’re looking to do is try to meet with people who want to collaborate on shared visions for a Connected Health future where patients are never alone and can get the encouragement, support and motivation they need to lead their lives in very healthy more fulfilling ways, and that’s what we’re looking to get from trying to interact with the community that you seem to be doing very well to bring together with your HealthCamp initiative. So that’s why we’re so interested and honored to be participating in this podcast.

MAU: Let me just pull that more because I’m going to link to your blog again because if there is anybody who just wants to keep track of the mobile industry in general, I just find your blog very enlightening, tell me about what’s coming in the near future in terms of healthcare and the mobile phone industry in the UK and in general.

DD: The mobile industry has done a great job of marketing services that are really easy to get a hang of, are right there at your fingertips, and with this recession it’s seemingly coming to a slow down and the mobile content industry doesn’t know where to go next… and what they’re now looking at from analysis of customers they are finding that people aged 50+ are the most affluent members of our society but currently they are the lowest spending mobile user group. They’re sending the least text messages, they’re not buying into the ringtone phenomenon and the mobile industry is waking up to this. This affluent user group, and the smartphone manufacturers (Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, Sharp and Panasonic are all members of the Continua Alliance) and operating software companies (Symbian Insight comment on 3G Doctor/100 Medical Applications for your iPhone) are realizing that these programmable devices hold an enormous opportunity so you won’t find a mobile operator today that doesn’t have a mobile health initiative (Verizon/WirelessLifesciences, Sprint/Continua, Orange Health, Vodafone 3G Care, Telefonica/O2 MobiHealth) either being thought about or being executed at this moment, and that’s a very exciting time for us. For products in the market today – you can see a slide show of a presentation I gave at the eHealth Conference at City University in London recently. It summarizes what’s happening in the entire global industry, we’ve seen things like iPlato simply sending text messages to patients to remind them of their appointments – bringing down the level of no shows in primary care to almost zero, improving patient satisfaction levels no end making “it feel like a private service” patients are saying. You can look at products like the Nokia wellness application Nokia Wellness Application which is being downloaded by hundreds of thousands every month as a free application that just lets you collect your health information on your phone and monitoring your diet, monitoring your exercise levels, monitoring your weight – and it all lets you get a really good grip on that, and I think that’s a sign of what is going to happen,and we’re seeing things like the Orange Health initiative by France telecoms “Orange” Mobile Brand moving into this space and we’re seeing initiatives like Qualcomms Lifecomm spin out which is going to really shake up this market and we’re also seeing handset manufacturers (Check out the Sport Coaching device/service recently launched from a collaberation between Samsung and Addidas – MiCoach) becoming really interested in trying to make a device which can deliver on this promise of a connected health future.

Trends in the mobile industry

MAU: Do you see these new solutions coming out in a way that supports collaboration amongst people, or is everyone trying to create their own proprietary part of the stack that tries to lock in the patients to either the mobile phone or the mobile phone service or so on or how are you finding that because you’re a start up trying to navigate all of these things?

DD: Yes, businesses have share holders and they want to be sure if there investment is down they are going to have a long prosperous opportunity to make hay when the sun is shining, but quite frankly I don’t think the mobile healthcare market is going to allow that many fingers in the pie there is a hairs breadth between another Doctor setting up another service alike this service and offering their services.  None of this is completely new, none of this is imaginatively out there and innovative it’s just a different way of providing care and I don’t think that there will be the opportunity for anyone to completely strangle hold the market. Saying that if for example Sony produced a “HealthMan” device which blew up the personal healthcare market like the Sony Walkman did for the personal music market obviously if that company innovated and led from the front like for example Symbian have done with programmable Smartphones, or the iPhone has done with the touch screen feature phone, I can see no reason why that company won’t be able to have a very strong brand which will obviously be fundamental to a successful healthcare company and obviously it will be the quality of the brand that these companies can establish for themselves that will define them in this hyper connected environment where peoples word of mouth is so strong that quite frankly if a brand doesn’t have at heart thorough values for what it is doing I don’t think it will be able to succeed with any technology or any patents to prevent others from fulfilling the needs of patients and finding loyal followers. So I think it’s a really exciting time. These devices are already out there, they’re already programmable, a lot of the software for example Symbian software is now open source which makes it very difficult for people to monetize the building of new health applications, It’s going to happen if we want it or not and on my blog you’ll see a lot of the things I profile are companies and services which have been created from exactly that – just a young guy at Lancaster university just gets a GPS device, see if you can program something on it. And the student just goes and does his PHD producing a phenomenal mobile health care application that works on any of about 200 million phones that are shipping this year, so it’s a market that I don’t think will be able to see the huge players take such an overall influence of, but it would be great if someone did create for example the next HealthMan – I’d love to see that product!

MAU: Right well on that positive note, thank you very much for this interview today. We’ll add some links on the podcast, thanks so much for your time today.

DD: Thank you Mohammad.

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