Business Strategy Review Interview with Julie Bretland
Whether you are counting the calories, managing a chronic illness, or preparing for pregnancy, smartphone apps are becoming an important part of the way that we manage our health. According to the FDA, for example, 500 million smartphone users across the globe will be using an mHealth app by 2015, and half the world’s smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded one by 2018. The problem is, with thousands of such apps available, how do users separate the worthwhile from the weak?
This is where Julie Bretland’s social enterprise our Mobile Health is useful. Bretland has long been involved in the mobile phone industry. She worked for Ericsson in the UK and Sweden. “We were looking at the implications of 3G and 4G technology: what the world of mobile internet looked like and how mobility and access to mobile data would affect the way people lived and worked,” she says.
Bretland then switched to Vodafone and the entertainment space, which was breaking new ground for mobile technology. “Mobile content services were combining a mix of text, video and interactive services,” she says. “At the time it was unprecedented. We were dealing with innovative new companies that were bridging and aggregating between mobile providers and content providers.”
Staying close to this innovation, Bretland spent a couple of years managing mobile music services for operators across Europe, before moving to a Belgian firm, where she spent a lot of time in Africa introducing the firm to mobile operators across the continent. This was followed by spell as a consultant working with a consortium on a mobile health project, exploring how mobile technology could support maternity services in Ghana.
Some of the most innovative work in the mobile space is happening in emerging countries, and Bretland was struck by her experience in Africa. “It was phenomenal seeing the difference that access to services such as mobile finance, mobile education and mobile health can make to people’s quality of life,” she says. “I came back to London and started my MBA having seen the positive impact mobile technology can have, knowing that there is not the same take up of mobile health services in the UK, and thinking about what I could do to change that. Apps can be a really convenient and private aid to managing your health.”
As Bretland’s market research revealed, there is a strong emphasis on an evidence-based approach when evaluating the merits of a particular medical product or service. Traditionally, this approach involves clinical testing and peer review, where appropriate. When seeking medical advice, most people in the UK rely on the NHS and their GP, who is medically trained to dispense an opinion that has value. With mobile health apps, there was no obvious way to assess quality, and easily separate the good and useful from the bad or dangerous.
Bretland found a way to provide that quality assurance. “We supply a curated application store for only really high quality health apps,” she says. “We rate the apps according to different criteria. So we do a technical review, a peer review from someone in the medical community, and then we also look at the evidence base, such as whether the app has undergone clinical trials.”
The aim is to target healthcare providers and insurance firms, organisations that have an interest or duty in maintaining a healthy population. our Mobile Health will be able to offer that organisation a suite of apps that can be bundled up and passed on to the end user, who in turn will use them to maintain or improve their health, promoting a healthy lifestyle or managing chronic conditions, for example.
“So someone suffering from diabetes may be provided with a collection of apps that allows them to manage their diabetes effectively, and therefore avoid episodes that lead them to go to hospital because of their diabetes or complications from it,” she says. “It is also important to note that a diabetes app that suits one person may not be the best app for someone else, an eight-year-old may need something different to a 55-year-old. Choice of apps is important.”
If Bretland has her way, a large proportion of the UK will soon be using an Our Mobile Health sourced app.
© London Business School 2014