Yesterday the UN Foundation announced the creation of a new Mobile Health Alliance to help facilitate innovation in the mHealth space (there is an excellent overview of the mhealth space here). This project was born out of a summit on ehealth that the Rockefeller Foundation last August (for more information here). An important part of the Alliance’s work will be developing a consensus on open standards and strategies for scaling up mobile health approaches due to the fact that current efforts are rather small and pilot projects dependent on donor funding for the time being. I’ve been quite interested in this area for the past two years and was involved with developing a business plan for a “Global Health Collaboratory” with the CDC in the past that focused on how to mobilize cooperative approaches to create an ecosystem of companies and stakeholders that could catalyze new approaches to health delivery and driving improved health outcomes at a lower price point. That means a robust eco-system of small interventions, much like Ken Banks is working on, as well as major corporate efforts. I commented on this approach in Bellagio and you can see my rather dorky interview here (although I would not call it an “open source” approach, one can have a mixed eco-system of open and proprietary, I’m not a purist in the sense of being an open source evangelist). The point of my intervention in Bellagio was that we can develop innovation commons, or shared resources and network eco-systems as a platform to derive new business models, non-profit/social businesses downstream from the commons IF we think through the problem of how to manage a commons with diverse players involved. In other words, to borrow from Clayton Christensen, we can innovate on how we deploy network facilitation models to drive disruptive innovation.
The question is how we can do this in mobile health space? First, Ken Banks has argued that scaling up should not be the primary concern and he has some important points worth listening to in the continuing debate over the long-tail and mobile use in developing country contexts. Yet, for the health community we are plagued with the problem of expensive systems that do not produce very robust health outcomes and have to take the scaling up question into consideration. Ken’s insights here can help us a lot when we think about “last mile health coverage” and we can bring some of his insights to the discussion on cooperation and commons and go off in other directions as well. Furthermore, as our knowledge of health outcomes and the social determinants of health grows it is clear that no one intervention can do it all. So, how can we rethink innovation in the global health space (and here I mean truly global, that is, including the so-called “global North”). I think there may be some answers in the literature on cooperation, new commons, open innovation and peer-to-peer design to create an eco-system of cooperative players (from handset manufacturers to telcos to health plans to microfinancial institutions to employers to NGOs, etc.) to come together and create a new model for innovation. When I was working with the CDC to develop the concept there was a tremendous amount of interest in this concept and interest from the private sector in seeing it come to life. Over the coming weeks I’m planning to take this idea and begin putting some “meat on the bones” to see if it is possible to create such a platform that could work with the UN Foundation and other groups in a synergistic fashion to accomplish the goal of better health and healthcare with the poor and at a lower price, that is, sustainable. You’ll see fragments of concepts in earlier posts on the “entrepreneurial commons” that could be useful as well. If you have any ideas, thoughts, suggestions please leave a comment. I’ll be posting or tweeting about this as things evolve. I’ve created a pbwiki where I’m dumping information on mobile health projects, papers, etc. from around the world. In coming weeks I’ll make this a much better organized space or mobile health commons in-the-making.