Greater use of mobile phones to deliver healthcare, known as mHealth, could save Europe almost 100 billion by 2017 and increase GDP by 93 billion, according to new research carried out by PwC on behalf of the GSMA.
As well as lowering the annual EU healthcare spend by 18 percent, mHealth could reduce care costs for chronic conditions by 30 to 35 percent through improved treatment compliance and remote patient monitoring, the report claims.
mHealth applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, and direct provision of care (via mobile telemedicine).
The report claims that mHealth can help to improve patients' lifestyles, providing 9.4 million people at risk of developing chronic diseases with access to earlier diagnosis, and enabling 11 million chronic patients and nine million elderly patients to benefit from remote treatment and monitoring.
Hospitals also stand to benefit from enhanced resource efficiency. The report states that mHealth could accommodate the treatment of an additional 24.5 million patients without requiring more doctors or new healthcare facilities.
"The growing prevalence of chronic diseases, the relatively high cost of healthcare and an ageing population means many countries in the EU are experiencing a healthcare resource crisis that mobile technology can help relieve," said Michael O'Hara, Chief Marketing Officer, GSMA.
"Better access to healthcare services and the cost efficiencies driven by mHealth will help EU economies deliver sustainable and effective healthcare systems."
While the potential benefits of mHealth are evident, there are still multiple regulatory, economic, structural and technological barriers to adoption. Unless these barriers are removed, the report states, the adoption of mHealth could be limited to about 10 percent of its potential in 2017.
O'Hara said that much more needs to be done by regulators and governments within the EU to incentivise, encourage and drive the adoption of mHealth for the benefit of citizens.
Suggestions include integrating mHealth within the nationwide healthcare strategies of EU countries, creating policies and frameworks that encourage deployment of innovative mHealth solutions, and providing education on mHealth for healthcare professionals, patients and consumers.
The European Commission currently invests up to 100 million a year to support research into eHealth (of which mHealth is a sub-segment). Earlier this year, Neelie Kroes awarded prizes to SMEs from Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and United Kingdom as part of eHealth Week 2013.
The winners came up with innovations in areas such as improving cognitive behavioural therapy for mental care and improving physiological monitoring. The competition was jointly organised by TICBioMed and the European Commission.
"Your inspiring ideas show us how eHealth tools can help patients take control of their health and support doctors and health and care professionals. You have my support, my admiration and my warmest wishes for every success," said Neelie Kroes at the time.