Remote Health Care: Body Parts Make Phone Calls

Facing saturated markets, rubella cellular carriers are jumping into the revolution of mobile technology that identifies and acts on medical problems.

By Kerry Capell

Business Week – If Telefónica (TEF) has its way, your knee will one day call your doctor. In partnership with Barcelona’s Hospital de la Esperanza, Telefónica has developed a knee brace embedded with motion sensors that enable physicians to monitor patients’ rehabilitation remotely after they’ve been discharged from the hospital. As they exercise, patients—and there are 200 testing the device right now—watch their movements simulated via a 3D avatar on a computer, which wirelessly sends the data to the doctor for view on a PC or cell phone. Telefónica aims to sell the brace to hospitals worldwide when trials are completed by next year.

Until recently, the only connection between cell phones and health was the fear they might cause cancer or traffic accidents. Now, cellular operators are trying to become providers of wireless-health-care products and services. The market, known as mobile or m-health, spans everything from text messaging services to remind people to take medications to implants that monitor heart patients. There are even pills with edible computer chips; the chips send signals to a skin patch, which in turn transmits data to a doctor’s cell phone or computer. The information helps doctors track when patients take their medicines and whether there are adverse reactions. “Mobile has the potential to revolutionize the health-care system by increasing efficiency, lowering costs, expanding access to care, and improving patient outcomes,” says Alessio Ascari, who leads McKinsey’s mobile-health-care initiative from Milan.

Telecom operators view m-health as one of three future revenue streams, along with content and advertising. “All telcos face the same challenge: the commoditization of our core business of voice and broadband,” says Alvaro Fernández de Araoz, Telefónica’s director of corporate e-health. “We see wireless health care as a major source of new growth.”

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