John Grumitt, Vice President, International Diabetes Federation, is the guest columnist of the 5th issue of Smart Health. Grumitt considers mHealth has the potential to empower people, not through data but by connecting people with communities, connecting people with care teams, and connecting people with ideas.
mHealth has the potential to change health for the better for all of the key stakeholders: patients, providers and payers. Although much is offered, unlocking this potential has its challenges. With representation in over 170 countries, The International Diabetes Federation is, amongst others, a leading advocate working to address them. At the recent World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver, we saw innovation coming from a broad range of markets. While much of the debate on big data is coming from the rich democracies, applications are being tested at scale in developing markets unencumbered with established practices. For example, we saw text based models of care delivered to over 1 million patients in India and a number of other initiatives at scale presented by academics in Bangladesh. You can visit the web site (www.idf.org/worlddiabetescongress) to see some of the presentations and posters for yourself.
In some respects, mHealth is pushing against an open door with respect to diabetes care. Globally, diabetes takes up 12% of health budgets and the number with the disease forecast to rise from 415 million today to 625 million by 2040. The need for better care and support delivered more efficiently is abundantly clear in an environment of limited spending on health coupled with increasing demand. Despite this, policy makers are still grappling with who is responsible for our health data, let alone the additional issues presented by new methods of sharing and using this data. Mobile operating platforms represent a pervasive distribution platform, crossing geographies, cultures and economies. A powerful ecosystem capable of placing knowledge and support in the palm of a patients’ hand.
Yet, despite this potential, the needs of the patient-consumer still remain largely unaddressed. People with long term conditions, such as diabetes, live with them 24/7. That’s 8,760 hours a year. Yet even in the wealthiest markets, they see a healthcare professional for less than 10 hours a year. For the rest of the time people with diabetes are supposed to make good make decisions on their own which we know this is not the case. Support tools could be a real help here: for patients and healthcare professionals alike. It is not just about creating pathways through which to share data, as important as this is. Education and decision support tools offer great potential too, delivering a deep and sustaining impact. mHealth holds the potential to empower, but not through data. It will succeed by connecting people with communities, connecting people with care teams, and connecting people with ideas. While some elements require careful management and overcoming legal hurdles, there is still much to be gained through simple education and sharing.
Although we are still at a relatively early stage, new collaborations are emerging as distributors, technicians and conduits work together to overcome barriers and exploit opportunities. The International Diabetes Federation welcomes these, having worked with the WHO and the GSMA amongst numerous others to enable progress. In so doing we can create the opportunity for people to be better informed and make better decisions. In turn, increasingly scarce health resources can be used more efficiently and people lead healthier lives.
By John Grumitt, Vice President, International Diabetes Federation.