Healthcare markets worldwide are struggling with unsustainable costs, aging demographics, rising chronic disease rates, and physician shortages. Legacy infrastructure is not up to the task of tackling these challenges. Care providers, government agencies, and insurers are looking to mobile technologies, apps, and services for solutions to some of these problems. Wireless carriers and their partners have responded by increasing resources devoted to the health sector, particularly in their M2M business units.
Parks Associates estimates that the total number of health-related M2M connections will experience aggressive growth from nearly 2 million connections in the U.S. in 2014 to 10 million health connections in 2018. M2M health connectivity revenues will more than double in that timeframe.
M2M Connectivity and Services for Health Devices
For any particular M2M deployment, the choice of network technology is affected by the extent of cellular coverage in the area of deployment, the need for mobility, bandwidth requirements, power consumption, cost, lifecycle of deployed devices, and need for over-the-air (OTA) updates. Cellular deployments are particularly appropriate in situations where it is not feasible to run a fixed line, but where network reliability and availability are paramount.
In the healthcare space, cellular M2M communications are most often used to connect medical equipment and provide connectivity for remote patient monitoring solutions. In the former use case, connectivity enables device users to catch performance issues early and avoid down-time–a potentially big cost saver for expensive medical equipment like MRI machines. Insight into maintenance needs also saves on service costs, since having remote access to device performance data allows service staff to bring the appropriate tools and parts to repair the device in one service visit. For instance, one of the largest medical device OEMs in China, Mindray, connects its testing and diagnostic equipment across China Unicom’s 3G networks. Device connectivity is also used to monitor inventory and environmental data. For instance, a connected refrigerator storing temperature-sensitive chemical reagents can alert laboratory staff if the temperature drifts from a pre-set range; it can also alert staff if reagent supplies are low.
“Growth in the M2M health vertical is not only a win for M2M ecosystem players, but to health systems and patients as well”
Cellular networks also enable care providers to remotely monitor patient health. For instance, CardioNet produces a Mobile Cardiac Outpatient Telemetry (MCOT) device that remotely monitors a patient’s heart to detect arrhythmia; it then transmits collected data to a service center over a GSM network. NovaSom has developed a cellular-enabled Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to remotely diagnose sleep apnea. Not only does the cellular connection obviate the need for patients to schedule face-to-face diagnostic reviews with a doctor, it also assures insurers that patients are using the expensive devices as prescribed. Target M2M health clients for MNOs and M2M service integrators include hospital CIOs, durable medical equipment (DME) departments of large health organizations, medical device manufacturers, and leaders of health service organizations ranging from hospital ICUs to assisted-living facilities.
Due to the fragmented, custom nature of the M2M space, coupled with the very low data use of typical M2M deployments, mobile network operators (MNOs) participated in the early development of the M2M market primarily through wholesaling network access to other specialized network providers. As MNOs face declining voice and messaging revenues, however, they are diversifying by building out their M2M businesses. Unlike the consumer market, the M2M space is characterized by low churn rates and a much better ability to attach value-added services that resist commoditization.
Leading carriers in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific have dedicated sales teams to the M2M space, including the health sector. By any measure, the M2M market is achieving strong growth in nearly every market. AT&T, for instance, counts nearly 22 million connected devices on its network as of March 2015; this represents 19.2 percent growth year-over-year. Telefonica counted €146M in M2M revenues for the first nine months of 2014, which represents 44 percent growth year-over-year. Orange Healthcare, the carrier’s digital healthcare division created in 2007, notes that M2M is the fastest growing segment of its business, with 14 percent-15 percent growth annually.
Growth in the M2M health vertical is not only a win for M2M ecosystem players, but to health systems and patients as well. Orange Healthcare, for instance, has published significant drops in mortality rates and hospital re-admission rates among French patients using its remote heart monitoring system. As more wirelessly-connected health monitoring solutions come to market to close the gaps in care, patients and care providers will increasingly see the real benefits of M2M’s technical and market potential.