Will bandwidth capping/throttling scupper Mhealth?

I love the idea that you could fire up an app on your smartphone and check your health records, or if you are a physician, you can peruse the drug interactions for HIV medications on your iPhone. the healthcare ‘mobile revolution’ appears to be starting, and mobile healthcare is predicted to be very big starting 2011 and I myself have predicted that mobile health will play a larger role in 2011 too.

Of course, this all depends on the uptake of smartphones (and tablets, if you consider them to be a mobile device) by patients, as well as the commitment to infrastructure by healthcare providers and authorities. We know Pharma is interested (My agency are currently developing several apps ranging from dosing calculation tools to e-detail aids on a number of platforms), but my main worry is whether our efforts will be scuppered by the one variable no-one seems to be talking about: The telecoms companies.

Let’s look at recent news in the industry – there have been reports of mobile providers throttling bandwidth (Virgin Mobile in the US is the most recent to announce this). In addition, mobile providers are reducing the amount of data that can be used in a particular plan. Even last year in the UK, for instance, all the large telecoms companies were offering ‘unlimited’ mobile broadband packages (with a fair use policy of up to 500MB or 1GB of data a month). Significantly, there was little enforcement of the fair use policy. Fast forward to today, where T-Mobile are the latest to announce that they are essentially abolishing the fair-use policy and introducing a hard cap on data usage (500MB/month), above which punters would need to pay an extra £5 per 500MB per month. This follows similar rules introduced by Vodafone in late 2010 (which was handled appallingly with regards to how they communicated this to customers, by the way).

So here begs the titular question: Will bandwidth caps/throttling scupper mobile health?

Consider data-heavy apps, sharing images, streaming video and other information. The telecos won’t pay to support this. Will healthcare infrastructure pay for physician apps? Will patients be happy to pay extra to access these?

Edit: 18 January 2011 – an another operator adds to the confusion. Sprint are to charge smartphone users an extra $10/month to account for data usage!

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