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The Key to Launching the Fee-For-Service Approach in Global mHealth

By Sarah Hiller on June 17, 2011

Lately I’ve been researching the players in the mHealth industry in developing countries. Organizations using a fee-for-service approach offer a powerful vehicle for lasting change, and I’ve found a fair number of them involved in global mHealth.

However, given the enormous untapped market at the base of the pyramid, I would expect the industry to be flush with new fee-for-service ventures, all scrambling to gobble up market share in what could, and should, be a lucrative industry.

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Although it may be tough for the BOP to pay for mHealth services, it’s in consumers’ best interest to do so for two reasons:

  1. Paying would make the mHealth service provider financially sustainable and spark competition, allowing the customer to continue to receive valuable mHealth services and benefit from new services at lower prices.
  2. I think a customer places a higher value on a service if he or she pays for it; the consumer will get more out of the same service. The consumer simply can’t afford it? Let’s try savings plans or financing that can be paid seamlessly via mobile banking, like mPay Connect.

This fee-for-service approach would soar if it were part of a profitable business model. Profitable business models are the missing pieces in this picture and their scarcity explains why relatively few organizations using the fee-for-service approach have entered the market. Devising good business models is a challenge that can be addressed, though. The industry needs a jump-start.

How about an X PRIZE for global mHealth? Indeed, there is a terrific award to motivate non-profits: the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project and mHealth Alliance Award will dole out no less than $650,000, and its applicants must have a business plan or a basic framework for financial sustainability. Kudos to the Vodafone and UN Foundations. As a bonus, the awards and subsequent idea exchange should stimulate for-profit organizations, as well.

Countless donor-driven organizations do fabulous work and play a critical, irreplaceable role in providing healthcare in developing countries. At the same time, I am confident that the fee-for-service approach, both independently and in partnership with donor-driven organizations, offers a particularly promising vehicle to achieve a goal that I think we all share: better healthcare in the short- and long-term in developing countries.

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Sarah Hiller is a media relations/marketing expert focused on promoting technologies that bolster international development and relief efforts.
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