Whither Mobile Healthcare Banking & Payments?
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27 April 2009
Over the past weeks, I have been increasingly intrigued about the convergence of healthcare and mobile technology. Through various published articles and vendor briefings, it is apparent that it will only be a matter of time before the healthcare space (which is relatively slow to adopt new technology) will present an opportunity for mobile phone-based features. Various applications of mobile technology in healthcare have already been piloted or launched. Of these, two consumer-facing tools have caught my attention (although I'm sure there are many more out there). The beauty of the first mobile tool is its simplicity. Specifically, it is the use of SMS/text messaging to send reminders to patients to do a number of things; take/refill meds, schedule an appointment, check blood glucose levels or even go for a 15-minute walk. Two-way text messaging could be used to ask for self-administered blood pressure readings. Chronic disease and control of it are often behavioral-based, and reminders can be valuable disease management aids. The second mobile tool is access to EMRs (electronic medical records) or PHRs (personal health records). EMRs and PHRs have been in the news quite a bit lately, as they are a core focus area of President Obama's healthcare reform efforts. Although there has been some debate about EMR/PHR cost effectiveness, reports from healthcare providers are beginning to indicate that such records do indeed increase efficiencies and decrease error. Although medical record access through computer terminals will be the norm, mobile phones would be a natural technological extension, allowing access nearly anytime, anywhere. Such access may mean life or death in some emergency situations. Despite these clear paths to healthcare/mobile convergence, the union of healthcare and mobile banking & payments is still murky. It is likely that mobile healthcare banking will mirror the general mobile banking space -- i.e., it will be a mixed bag. In other words, mobile healthcare banking will gain traction or spin its wheels where retail mobile banking has already done so. That is, mobile healthcare banking will likely be adopted for informational purposes, such as looking up balances and transaction histories. However, things will be much different for mobile payments. As is the case in the mobile retail payment space, usage will be anemic given that business models have yet to be defined and that it is not entirely clear how mobile payments would be advantageous to merchants (i.e., healthcare providers) and banks (i.e., HSA custodians/administrators). My view is that mobile healthcare payments will be used far less than any mobile retail payments, given that that low-value transactions and mobile coupons (the oft-cited targets of mobile payments) do not apply.