Health on the move – Mobile health and technology in China and the UK


Catherine Tsui and Christopher Wasden of PwC discuss the advances in mobile health and technology in China and the UK

Mobile health (mHealth), referring to the use of mobile devices (or more generally wireless technology) in healthcare delivery, is still in its early stages of development but is attracting increasing attention from healthcare providers and payers in both developed and emerging markets worldwide. By improving communications between healthcare providers, payers and patients, enabling the remote monitoring of symptoms and allowing patients to take greater control of their own treatment, mHealth is already demonstrating that it can be highly effective for delivering better and more cost-effective patient outcomes.

mHealth has a particularly strong potential in China to address the country’s rapidly ageing population. With few children to support their parents and an exploding middle class that views healthcare as a luxury good they can consume, there is also a shortage of hospitals, clinics, physicians and nurses to meet these demographic and economic demands. With its unique market characteristics and rapidly developing healthcare system, the country is facing particular challenges to provide basic primary healthcare equitably and universally, whilst also providing quality, medically advanced and patient-centric clinical care for those who are able and willing to pay for premium services. China has the largest and fastest growing ageing population in the world (with one fifth of the world’s elderly population), and the one-child policy means that two ageing parents have only one child to care for them in their later years(1). The Chinese middle class is larger than the population of the United States and already makes up more than half of the urban population. With their growing disposable incomes and generally more advanced education levels, the Chinese urban middle class increasingly prefers international-style
medical services. While the Chinese government has aggressive plans to reform the healthcare system in China, as illustrated by the healthcare reform goals in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), it will require the adoption of transformative technologies and medical practices to meet these demands. Innovative yet practical mobile health solutions could potentially fill many healthcare gaps in China, where consumers are willing to pay out of pocket for services from both public and private medical service providers. It would also enable providers to overcome difficulties in generating these offerings within existing budget constraints.

Pilots of mHealth services are underway or already completed in a number of provinces, and are delivering both real benefits to consumers and potentially attractive returns to investors. For example, the “12580” hospital booking and reminder system in Guangdong, Nei Menggu, Tianjin and Zhejiang supported by China Mobile has helped to reduce the cost of healthcare delivery and at the same time improve patients’ access to doctors and medical facilities. Shanghai Jiaotong University has set up a remote service centre to serve patients equipped with mobile-enabled medical devices provided by hospitals to monitor and diagnose their conditions. Experience from these pilots will help to shed light on how to address the problems of uneven distribution of medical personnel and facilities across rural and urban areas.

The pervasiveness of technology is enabling the emergence of a new, more patient-centric healthcare value chain. For technology vendors, service providers and investors(1), mHealth offers many opportunities. The mHealth survey projects that by 2017, China will be the second largest mobile health market after the United States, with an estimated US$2.5 billion in revenues(2). Development of this market will be further facilitated by the establishment of electronic health records, with the Chinese government aiming to cover 75 per cent of the population by 2015(3). There will be a range of commercial opportunities relating to the sale and integration of the devices, as well as the processes and associated IT platforms required to deliver mHealth solutions. There will also be opportunities for investments and joint ventures with companies specialising in this area. Overall, stakeholders should revisit their business models so that mHealth is conceived, positioned and developed as a critical component of an integrated, efficient care system and not as a standalone solution. Inspiration may be found in other industries, such as media, retail and travel/tourism, that provide value-added online services – free of charge – in order to generate a competitive advantage.

Across the pond, the interest in mHealth to address long-standing healthcare issues is also strong. In the UK, providers and payers also have high expectations: according to a survey about mHealth, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by PwC, six in ten clinicians and payers(4) believe the adoption of mHealth is inevitable. The scope of mHealth initiatives is growing as the National Health Service (NHS) accelerates its roll-out of telehealth and telecare through its “three million lives” campaign; mHealth will be an important component to enhance the lives of three million UK patients over the next five years.

The health secretary is also exploring the possibility of general practitioners “prescribing” mobile apps for patients, and has set forth a proposal that promotes technologies and approaches to facilitate sharing of information with patients.

Overall, mHealth presents excellent opportunities for both Chinese and foreign companies to work with healthcare providers and payers to bring better, faster and more cost-effective treatment to patients globally. Mobile technology holds the potential to address some of the
long-standing issues in healthcare provision, as current trends dictate. By acting promptly, stakeholders can ensure they are active players in this exciting and inevitable new future
for medical care.

(1) Kaneda, T. ‘China’s Concern Over Population Ageing and Health.’ Population Reference Bureau, June 2006. An ageing population is defined as those who are aged
65 and above. It is estimated that there are approximately 102 million elderly people in China.
(2) Emerging mHealth: Paths for Growth, Economist Intelligence Unit, 2012 (
(3) China healthcare reform goals in the 12th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China (2011-2015)
(4) mHealth in the UK: Paths for growth, Economist Intelligence Unit, 2012 (

This article was taken from China-Britain Business FOCUS, a monthly magazine published by the China-Britain Business Council for its members.

The China-Britain Business Council helps companies of all sizes from all sectors to do business with China. Find out more at

Sectors: Healthcare & Medical
Countries: China
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