We at Medgadget have covered a lot of mobile technologies related to health care, primarily in the US and European markets. However, it is also interesting to note how mobile health is progressing in other countries as well. To explore this, we spoke with Yuk Tae-sun, Executive Vice President and Head of New Business Division of SK Telecom. SK Telecom is the largest wireless provider in South Korea and is currently pioneering healthcare services based on their advanced network technologies and services. We had a chance to ask Mr. Tae-sun about how SK Telecom is leading the way in mobile app development in South Korea and how the market compares to the US.
Ravi Parikh, Medgadget: Can you give us a bit of your background? How did you become involved in the field of health information and communication (ICT) technologies?
Yuk Tae-sun, Executive VP at SK Telecom: Considering the aging of population and growing demand for healthcare services, the existing healthcare system centered around hospitals has limitations in terms of cost, quality and accessibility. Thus, we felt the need to change the healthcare paradigm through innovative services powered by cutting-edge ICT. Recently, we are achieving rapid progress thanks to the introduction and development of LTE network, diverse sensing devices, and big data-based healthcare information platform. Moreover, we joined hands with Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) to establish a joint venture named HealthConnect in January 2012 with the aim to proactively respond to the changes in the market and enjoy the early mover’s advantage.
Medgadget: You commercialized Health-On earlier this year. What types of information are transmitted back to health professionals through the app? What information is provided to the consumer?
Tae-sun: Designed to help people lead healthier lives by focusing on prevention of chronic diseases through proper diet and exercise, Health-On offers integrated healthcare service utilizing an activity tracker and mobile app. The Health-On app allows users to store information – including medical check-up results, calorie intake and physical activity level – and send it to nutrition/fitness professionals, who will then set weight loss goals and give dietary/exercise recommendations. And the activity tracker, which can be worn on around the wrist or clipped on to a belt, can be used to record step counts and calculate calories burned by exercise. Going forward, once the revision of medical law takes place, Health-On will allow users to receive on/offline health consultation directly from medical professionals.
Medgadget: What will the role of the provider be in the Health-On model? What types of consultation will he/she be able to provide based on the data, and do you foresee any challenges in relying on interactions that are not face-to-face?
Tae-sun: Health-On provides users with customized dietary and exercise recommendations as well as health consultations to help them change their lifestyles. For instance, after analyzing/assessing each user’s body composition and health-related information using SNUH’s proven health management algorithm, it sets specific goals for each user, suggesting proper amount exercises and calorie intake. As a service that relies on an algorithm, it can, in the early stages of its introduction, lack real-time interactions and accuracy compared to face-to-face services. However, by adding more precision to the algorithm and establishing a sophisticated system to interact better with users, we expect to elevate the service quality to that of face-to-face services.
Medgadget: Switching gears, what can you tell us about Smartcare and the status of its trial services?
Tae-sun: Smartcare is a three-year national project led by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy that completed in March 2013. We conducted clinical trials and trial services on a remote chronic disease management service using DSSH (Decision Support System for Home-healthcare) platform for patients with diabetes. Clinical trials, designed to measure stability and effectiveness, were conducted on 538 diabetic patients, while trial services were provided to 400 clinics to verify service acceptance and effectiveness. Through this pilot test, the scale of which marks the world’s largest to be conducted on one particular disease, we were able to find meaningful clinical results and achieve authorization of medical devices and solution in overseas markets, thus laying a solid foundation for a viable business model. And although it cannot be commercialized in Korea right away due to the limitations of the current Korean medical law, we plan to actively promote the business through overseas exports.
Medgadget: You have certainly made great strides in the mobile ICT space. What challenges do you see with mobile health app development going forward, and how do you believe these challenges differ from the US market?
Tae-sun:We expect two different challenges to occur throughout the world, including the U.S. and Korea. First, considering that most mobile app consumers use apps out of interest, we need to build a sustainable business model and come up with measures to motivate consumers to stay interested in and keep using our mobile apps. For instance, we can add SNS features – already available via Health-On – to enhance usability and reward programs and introduce reward programs in cooperation with outside partners like insurance companies to increase motivation. Second, we have to think of ways to differentiate our apps from other health mobile apps. Providing users with regular feedback from medical professionals through partnership with hospitals could become one example.
Medgadget: The FREND technology differs a bit from your previous mobile app endeavors in that now you are venturing into diagnostics. How did you decide to pursue this direction?
Tae-sun: We are actively investing in innovative medical device business as a means to secure core competitiveness in the healthcare industry and realize synergies with our healthcare services. We acquired stakes in NanoEntek (in 2011) and X’ian Tianlong Science and Technology Co. Ltd. (in 2012), a Chinese medical device manufacturer. FREND, developed based on LOC(lab-on-a-chip) technology, is a point-of-care testing (POCT) device that uses a single drop of blood to provide on-site diagnosis of cancer (prostate cancer), cardiac diseases (myocardial infarction, heart failure) and hormone disorders within 5 minutes. The device is currently in process of gaining approvals in the U.S. and China, and we expect to start selling it in the U.S. market from the second half of 2013.
Medgadget: What advice do you have for point of care diagnostic developers, and what do you believe is the potential of the market?
Tae-sun: With the development of Proteomics and Genomics, sophistication of diagnostic devices (i.e. miniaturization, improved accuracy/speed, etc.), increase of chronic diseases (once-fatal diseases are now treated as chronic illnesses) and decentralization of diagnostic services, the POCT market is projected to grow by 10 percent annually. In medically underserved areas such as the Southeast Asia and Africa, we can think of building a regional primary care system based on mobile connectivity. Such a business model could lead to earlier detection of diseases, narrower gap in medical service quality, higher quality of life and lower healthcare costs. SK Telecom is looking forward to cooperate with diverse partners to develop primary healthcare center for emerging countries.
Link: SK Telecom…