Mobile operator drops health services 5 months in

By: Jonah Comstock | Jul 29, 2013        

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O2 handsetsUK-based mobile operator O2, a subsidiary of Telefonica, has discontinued two of its mobile health offerings in the UK. By the end of 2013, the company will stop supporting consumer-facing emergency response service Help at Hand and provider-facing remote patient monitoring service Health at Home.

MobiHealthNews reported on the launch of these two offerings just a few months ago, in mid-March, although although a B2B version of Help at Hand has been available since April 2012. In a statement, the company said it was dropping the offerings because of a slow uptake.

“While eHealth continues to be a key focus for Telefonica, we recognized quickly that uptake of telehealth and telecare solutions in the UK market would be much slower than anticipated,” an O2 spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. “This is due to the early phase of the mobile telecare market.”

Instead, Telefonica will direct its mobile health efforts in emerging markets such as Latin America.

“eHealth does continue to be a key focus for Telefonica, who will continue to invest and focus resources in areas of eHealth where there is more customer demand, for example in Latin America,” O2 wrote. “Earlier this year Telefonica Digital acquired a controlling stake in Axismed, the largest chronic care management provider in Brazil, making Telefonica the first telecoms group in Latin America to deliver end-to-end services in the eHealth market.”

The company declined to disclose how many users the services had, but they are compensating their customers as part of the shut down. Help at Hand users will get a refund on device purchases, a refund on service charges if they have used the service for more than six months, and an extra £100 ($153 US). Service through December 31, 2013 will be free, at which point the service will no longer be offered. The company says it will securely delete all stored patient data at that time as well.

In March, MobiHealthNews noted that telehealth was a rising trend in the UK, with efforts like the 3 Million Lives initiative, Qualcomm Life’s launch of its 2net ecosystem of remote monitoring devices in Europe, telehealth giant Bosch partnering with a UK university to study telemedicine, and AstraZeneca and Exco InTouch launching a pilot using mobile health to help COPD patients in the UK. This move by O2 suggests that the momentum telehealth is experiencing in terms of pilots may not extend all the way to commercial viability.

For more on other mobile operator initiatives, be sure to check out our report in the MobiHealthNews library.

  • georgemargelis

    The real question is whether an mhealth market really exists, or it is just something that has been developed in the minds of telco marketers.
    Healthcare is a service business, which requires collaboration across multiple parties including clinicians, payers and patients. Unfortunately most technology companies have failed to bring those three parties together. In some cases they have actually fostered barriers between them by developing an adversarial “us versus them” mentality.
    Healthcare is much more complex than most other businesses, and overly simplistic solutions such as saying “there’s an app for that” do not do it justice. Technology is a great enabler, but we need to develop suitable clinical models that utilise it to good clinical effect. That requires collaboration and a great degree of patience by everyone involved.

  • Ernest Semerda

    Market exists. Execution is key.
    See this: “Remote patient monitoring to save $36B by 2018″

  • georgemargelis

    Ernest, whilst I am a big fan of digital technology in healthcare, I am also by training a physician and a scientist. As such I am a slave to the evidence and the data. Unfortunately the report you quote provides neither. Analysts predictions in this space have proven to be spectacularly wrong in the past, and from what I can see on this report, I believe it too is wrong.

    To date the evidence around Remote Patient Monitoring is at best ambiguous, and at worst indicative that it is of little if any value clinically. Studies by Mayo and John Hopkins have both shown no clinical benefit of currently available technologies.

    This is not to say that the technologies are not useful. However they are only useful in a clinical model of care that they have as yet not developed. There is good evidence that collaborative models of care that engage the patient and ensure a patient and their clinicians comply to an evidence based guideline can provide better outcomes. Capturing data remotely is a very small part of that model. The real “secret sauce” is in selecting the right patients, driving the relevant behavioural change, and ensuring they are receiving the right care. That requires clinician input, academic rigour in the evaluation, and policy support for reimbursement models that compensate the various stakeholders involved.

    Until such time as we recognise that digital health is part of the greater healthcare system, and integrate it effectively we will remain isolated science experiments with anecdotal data of no clinical relevance, and an expensive burden to the healthcare system, not an essential tool.

  • daviddoherty

    “The real question is whether an mhealth market really exists, or it is just something that has been developed in the minds of telco marketers”

    When you appreciate that mHealth underpins the adoption of mobile (the fastest technology that mankind has ever adopted) it’s obvious that it really exists:

    “Technology is a great enabler, but we need to develop suitable clinical models that utilise it to good clinical effect”

    It’s actually a lot easier than that for a telco in the UK eg. making content on domains free to browse would’ve greatly boosted discovery of mobile data services – triggering a massive expectation for mobile delivery from Patients and removing one of the reservations that UK healthcare providers in the UK use to justify their lack of innovation (NHS is supposed to be free at the point of care), adding NHS numbers to the contact address book on O2 SIM cards would’ve generated millions in premium rate calls to “local rate” telephone numbers, etc.

    Obviously none of these required O2 (the MNO) to become a ‘Health’ brand but it seems they took this approach as management at Telefonica are confused about the market eg. they don’t see the difference between eHealth and mHealth, they think that they’ll do better taking an emerging market first approach, etc.

    With reference to the “Clinical Value” of mHealth it’s been shown that we are smarter when we have medical text and reference book content at our fingertips:

    It’s interesting to note that O2 UK supported some good initiatives in this area but these were as a MNO and not as “O2 Health” eg. the giveaway to Leeds medical school provided Med students with iPhones and Medical TextBooks:

  • john trenouth

    Its a good question, and a fair point. Healthcare is a service. Product companies historically fail at delivering services. Technology companies are largely product companies. Disconnect results.

    So while products can and often do contribute enormously to a service, just throwing products at a service problem in the end fails.

  • Raj

    Thanks for your input, I am involved in developing one android app called “HealthStylus”, can you provide your valuable inputs.


  • KeyWestDan

    I also think that insurance and general tort liability is a large unspoken factor in these services. There could be huge liability in the event of failure.