It used to be that newest health care solutions required heavy infrastructure and billions in investments to gain traction. But the near-ubiquity of mobile technology around the world has changed that equation. There are already billions of people using mobile phones and connected to the internet globally. And over the next decade, billions more will only experience a connected-life, a group the entrepreneur Peter Diamandis coined “the rising billions.” These people are increasingly becoming the future of our global economy. Sadly, these are also billions of people who have little or no access to quality health care.
A unique combination of extreme demand, mobile ubiquity, affordable tech, and less regulation will enable the world’s most underserved markets to propel the next wave of telehealth innovation. Efficient solutions, with new business models, perfected in the developing world will create a ricochet effect, ultimately paving the wave for increased adoption of telemedicine into every aspect of the U.S. health system.
From villages in Africa to remote farms in Mexico, entrepreneurs, doctors and technologists are exploring new ways to leverage mobile technology to bring health care to those with limited access.
Entrepreneurs, local health professionals and in some cases governments and global leaders in some emerging markets will drive this revolution because, very often, the alternative is no care at all. The scarcity of medical services makes these markets ripe for innovation. In the U.S., there’s an average of 2.45 doctors for every 1,000 patients; in stark contrast, Zimbabwe only has 0.08 doctors for every 1,000 patients.
Telemedicine can augment and amplify medical care in rural areas. And as new affordable cognitive tools and platforms enter the market, they will quickly fill in the gaps where there are not enough health practitioners for everyone in need.
In resource-poor settings, entrepreneurs will need to find a way to operate with limited or no budget. These lean telehealth solutions will foster a leap forward with business models that emphasize efficiency while keeping costs low. Moreover, the telehealth solutions forged in the developing world will create a new type of healthcare model – one in which providers and technology are able to distribute basic care and services more evenly across large territories and populations.
Telemedicine innovation in the West is continuing to advance rapidly, but the pace of adoption will be quickly surpassed globally because of a myriad of regulatory barriers. In the United States for example, innovators must grapple with not only federal regulations, but also regulations that vary state-by-state. Because of this, we are seeing some investors and entrepreneurs looking beyond U.S. borders for the next wave of telemedicine innovation.
Ultimately, those low-cost solutions will ricochet back to the Unites States and other highly-developed markets, and their adoption will drastically drive down costs and improve efficiencies.
This leapfrog innovation will proliferate rapidly, slicing through our current infrastructure because of undeniable cost savings and improved outcomes especially for the underserved. These new telehealth technologies will become standard features of our lives, just as Skype and WhatsApp are now standard features for billions.
The door is wide open for globally-minded entrepreneurs and organizations to bring the much needed telehealth revolution to patients all over the world.
Illustration by Maggie Chiang