Mobile operator drops health services 5 months in

By Jonah Comstock
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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.