Digital health apps: An entry point for telcos
Digital health apps provide telcos an opportunity to enter the healthcare industry by deploying a range of services. This article will outline seven telcos that have started providing health services via apps. Digital health apps provide an opportunity for telcos to grow their revenue whilst simultaneously facilitating more universal access to quality healthcare.
Digital health apps have become a key entry point for telcos into the healthcare industry. Covid-19 has accelerated the digital health app market, and various digital health app solutions such as consultations and prescription management are increasingly being deployed, in part sparked by barriers to face to face healthcare access during the pandemic. This article will outline the various solutions that can be offered via health apps as well as seven examples of telcos deploying these services. It will be shown that digital health apps not only can provide telcos with the opportunity for revenue and growth in the healthcare indsutry, but also the ability to contribute to increasing access to quality healthcare services worldwide.
What are digital health apps?
With Covid-19 driving a 53% increase in the use of medical and health apps over the last two years, it has been predicted that the medical health app market size will reach over $100 million by 2026. Digital health apps vary in scope and thus capability requirements. Broadly, there are currently six key areas that these health apps focus on.
What is the opportunity for telcos?
The healthcare industry represents a key opportunity for telcos to grow beyond their traditional connectivity role and offer new solutions in both the B2B and B2C space that can provide new lucrative revenue streams. However, it must be noted that these opportunities vary greatly between markets, for example B2C opportunites are much more realistic for telcos in emerging than in developed markets where B2B solutions are more viable but innovative B2C solutions are tough. Digital health apps provide an accessible gateway for telcos into a range of healthcare services. Not only do digital health apps provide potential revenue streams for telcos, but they also enable telcos to adopt a humanitarian role in levelling out inequalities in healthcare access.
Especially as Covid-19 has accelerated the development of digital health apps, more telcos are beginning to provide health solutions via this platform. Below are seven examples of telcos and their digital health app offerings.
Deep Dives: seven telcos and their health app solutions
App: Step Up
Launched: July 2019
Solutions: personal health and wellbeing
Info: Personal health and wellness app to promote the population to increase their daily steps off the back of the government’s national steps challenge to tackle diabetes and obesity. After tracking steps, the app allows customers to earn rewards. 10,000 steps a day for a month will earn you 3GB extra of mobile data, with 1GB extra from Singtel’s network rewarded for 5000 steps. Singtel have partnered with other brands to offer new rewards such as $5 Starbucks vouchers, cinema tickets, PUMA sportswear and gourmet coffee vouchers. However, despite a significant marketing campaign in 2019, it is unclear how successful this app has been over the last two years. A lack of a clear update on the app from Singtel perhaps suggests the aforementioned struggle that telcos face in developed markets to achieve growth with new B2C offerings.
Region: Hong Kong
App: Esmart and Dr Go
Launched: 2016 (Esmart) and July 2020 (Dr Go)
Solutions: personal health and wellbeing (Esmart), consultations, health facility services, prescription management, secure data sharing (Dr Go)
Metrics: Dr Go had 88,000 users
Info: HKT was one of the first telcos to explore digital health apps, with their 2016 Esmart app enabling management of personal and relatives’ health through basic health metrics. Their Dr Go app, launched during the Covid-19 pandemic in July 2020, has seen HKT expand to offer a significantly wider range of digital health solutions. The app allows customers to: access private consultations (costing £35-42), including mental health and psychiatric consultations with specialists; order and manage prescriptions; access records such as medical certificates, referral letters and medical instructions. Furthermore, HKT has stated that its ultimate goal is to tackle healthcare inequality by providing the app as a solution in hospitals. It has already partnered with Gleneagles hospital to help grow this offering.
Info: Telenor began in 2016 by launching the app ‘Tonic’ in its market in Bangladesh with four key components: ‘Tonic life’ giving access to information of how to lead a healthy life; ‘Tonic doctor’ enabling phone consultations with medical professionals; ‘Tonic discounts’ offering exclusive discounts at over 50 hospitals in Bangladesh via the app; ‘Tonic cash’ helping to cover the cost of hospital stays up to four times a year. Telenor then launched its Tryggi App in Scandinavia in 2018 focusing on three elements: mobile workflow, remote monitoring, and smart hospitals. The mobile workflow element allows the secure transfer of electronic documents and records, enabled through a partnership with software company DIPS. The app allows remote patient monitoring of vitals such as weight and blood pressure with a feature that can alert family members if these metrics are alarming. Furthermore, the app is being deployed in Norwegian hospitals to facilitate the secure transfer of data and records. In 2019, Telenor expanded its Tonic app, emphasizing the ‘Jibon’ (Life) stream in India, primarily as a response to Dengue Fever. The app allowed customers to order home tests and also saw Telenor deploy solutions that enabled video and phone consultations and medical advice for 6 cent a minute and unlimited access to advice on leading a sanitary and healthy lifestyle.
Solutions: consultations, secure data sharing, prescription management
Metrics: Consultations through the app increased 450% in April 2020 and a further 256% between January and June of 2021, undoubtedly influenced by Covid-19
Info: Evolving from a website, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Globe expanded KonsultaMD into an app. The app allows 24 access to doctor consultations, including mental health and specialist consultations. It also enables online prescription management and access to medical documents and certificates. The app is managed by licensed doctors and has been endorsed by the Filipino department of health as part of their wider reorganisation of telehealth services due to Covid-19. Access to the app ranges between 15 and 150 pesos per month ($0.3 to $3) from start to group level plans.
Region: North America
App: Blue Jeans
Launched: April 2021
Solutions: secure data sharing, health facility services, consultations, remote monitoring
Metrics: Across various industries, not solely healthcare, there were 100 million meetings on the Blue Jeans videoconferencing platform in 2020
Info: The app is primarily aimed at healthcare providers to enable secure and reliable patient management and contact. The app allows the transfer and viewing of electronic health records and also facilitates consultations with patients if required through its videoconferencing solution. This solution was deployed in some NHS hospitals such as St Guy’s and St Thomas’ in Central London in 2020. On a personal level, the app integrates with apple health to enable remote monitoring of key patient health metrics such as respiratory rate. This data can be securely shared with clinicians to aid diagnosis.
App: My Care (formerly Babylon)
Launched: The Babylon app launched in 2019
Solutions: consultations, personal monitoring, records
Metrics: Every 30 seconds someone in Canada downloads the app and every 90 seconds a patient sees a doctor via consultation on the app
Info: The app allows video consultations, including access to consultations with mental health counsellors and dietitians. The app also allows the management of prescriptions and referrals. Telus has recently added personal monitoring features to the app, allowing data from activity trackers, wearables and other health apps to be synced and shared securely within the app. In addition, there is an AI symptom checker integrated into the app
Info: Many countries implemented apps to help track the spread of Covid-19, such as the NHS app in the UK. In Germany, Deutsche Telecom took a role in developing an app to track infection chains of Covid-19 alongside the German government. The app relied on secure and accurate data storage and transfer to notify users about possible risks of infection.
These telcos have deployed these digital health app solutions in differing ways, working with various partners and providing a range of services via apps. As the industry is rapidly growing, telcos should look to evolve or begin their deployment of healthcare services and digital apps provide an accessible gateway for entering this industry. However, telcos are still at an early stage in exploring the healthcare industry, with a need to expand and scale current solutions to provide widespread healthcare. To provide effective and holistic healthcare services, telcos will need to go deeper and provide solutions such as device base remote monitoring, inevitably requiring a plethora of partners, to complement their current digital health app solutions that have been outlined in this article.
Author:Izzy Montgomery, Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in digital health.
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