UK dials up 'virtual doctors' in big telehealth push

Jean-Sebastien Evrard, AFP/Getty Images

That makes integrating technical solutions within care systems a key challenge for firms in the telehealth space.

"To make telemedicine truly work you need to have an integrated offering that has technology which stands alongside traditional delivery of healthcare," said Christian Mazzi, a partner with consultancy Bain & Co.


With mobile technology now cheap enough and good enough to monitor patients at home and offer consultations over the Internet, Mazzi believes telehealth's time has finally arrived and the British commitment is an important stimulus in Europe.

"Putting incentives and structures in place is beginning to remove some of the barriers to a broader roll out," he said.

Many players, from medical equipment firms to developers of smartphone apps, are already vying for a piece of a market that has been talked about for 20 years but is now finally gaining momentum.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the worldwide market for mobile communications and devices used in healthcare will reach about $23 billion by 2017, up from $4.5 billion forecast for next year.

Telecom operators will be the biggest winners, grabbing roughly half of those sales, which explains their growing focus on healthcare.

The balance will be shared by a raft of other companies, such as General Electric, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Philips, Siemens and Bosch.

The clinical data may not be as clear as some would like - and winning doctors' acceptance may be a challenge - but companies are honing arguments to show how telehealth can help put a lid on costs that would otherwise spiral out of control.

It makes sense, too, for former bakery assistant Silvers, who has not had a chest infection for nearly a year since starting on her telehealth adventure.

($1 = 0.6214 pound)

(Editing by Will Waterman)