Will the Next Wave in Global Health Care reform be Mobile…and Come from Africa?

Recently I participating in a roundtable discussion with the Harvard Business School Health Care Special Interest Group. Our speaker for the evening was explaining (& pitching) his company, which had developed a tracking approach for identifying which brands of drugs were counterfeit. Apparently that’s a huge problem. That wasn’t the most interesting part.

The most interesting was:

a. how ubiquitous mobile phones are in Africa and

b. how people there are using them to manage their medical care (it’s true consumer-directed healthcare at work)

Seems like we in the US could learn a lot from this simple model. It connects the medical buyer directly with the medical provider. Costs are transparent.   Payment is swift and simple.In Kenya, for example, a pre-paid care for medical services can be purchased and continuously filled. Family members can add to the stored value as a gift and many do. Physicians accept these cards as payment for medical services, debiting the charges as provided. There is acute awareness of which clinical provider offers the “best value for money”. Patients vote accordingly, with their money and their feet.

Professor Clay Christiansen at Harvard has introduced the world to the concept of “Disintermediation”, the idea that over time, simple innovations starting from the low end of the market, end up completely changing and disrupting the market. Given that seminal insight, maybe we in the US healthcare industry should be looking hard over our shoulder at the innovations underway in Africa.

Photo: Erik Hersman