What Do Mobile Money and mHealth Offer Each Other? What mHealth Offers Mobile Money

  • Kelly Keisling, NetHope Global Healthcare Program Director
  • July 29, 2013
What mHealth Offers Mobile Money

Mobile money and mHealth are expanding fields, and each has grown largely independent of the other. A shared value proposition has the potential to combine the financial rationale of mobile money with the health impact of mHealth. Linkages between the two could combine the strengths and offset the limitations of each. Mobile money provides financial efficiency and sustainable business cases, while mHealth offers health impact and innovative use cases. Shared designs and business models could improve the innovation, impact and sustainability of both fields.

The crossover topic has received renewed interest lately. USAID efforts to encourage the use of e-payments by partners were discussed in a webinar on New Trends in USAID Procurement: e-Payments and Mobile Money. To consider the particular opportunities and lessons for health programs, a webinar on Demystifying Mobile Payments featured presentations by USAID, Pathfinder and the NetHope Payment Innovations team. The intersection of mobile money and mHealth was further discussed at the May meeting of the mHealth Working Group hosted by Pam Riley of Abt Associates, with presentations by mPay Connect, the USAID Mobile Solutions Team, D-Tree, Marie Stopes International and NetHope.  Abt and its partner Results for Development are part of the mobile money team for USAID global Health Finance and Governance (HFG) project.  HFG seeks to promote the use of mobile money to strengthen health systems through the identification of partners and use cases to drive the integration of mobile money in health, support for country strategies, and the dissemination of best practices and evidence.    

Drawing on these discussions addresses a common question of what do mobile money and mHealth offer each other? Over the course of the next several days, we’ll address this question in a three-part series exploring the crossover topic. Today, we’ll cover what mHealth offers mobile money. On Tuesday, we’ll consider the reverse and discuss what mobile money offers mHealth, and come Wednesday, we’ll explore the shared challenges and learning in mobile money and mHealth.

What mHealth Offers Mobile Money Scalable Markets, Savings, Demand Creation and Rationale for Decision Makers

A key challenge for mobile money is creating sustainable business models that scale, notes Menekse Gencer of mPay Connect. It appears that health organizations and consumers could address this challenge by providing institutional and retail customer bases at scale. Where mobile money services lack rural presence on the ground, health facilities and health agent networks can also extend reach through social franchising and voucher programs in rural areas. Costs can also be lowered, as Gencer explains how joint efforts can share operations through common agent networks that serve the same customer base. The opportunities and limitations of common agent networks are further suggested by a report by the IFC and Harvard. The report explains the relevant characteristics of airtime sales agents, which could be analogous for health agent networks. Airtime agents are “touch points” that offer physical points of presence, knowledge of customer habits or needs, and sometimes customer trust. Health agent networks can offer the same. But airtime agents, perhaps like health agents, lack liquidity, basic business skills and easy ability to partner with large corporations. Airtime agents and health agents may share opportunities and limitations, and these overlaps would benefit from cooperation between mobile money services and health agencies.

Health agencies, ministries and organizations can also influence the adoption of mobile money through engagement or demand creation.  Framing mobile money as a form of mHealth can prompt institutional demand, given the growing use of mHealth. The IFC/Harvard report mentions that development agencies have established reputations and relationships with local governments. Governments can help reach consumers, as a mHealth Alliance report lead authored by Gercer describes how Ghana’s pro-health policy and education on the benefits of insurance increased consumer demand for insurance products that employed mobile money. 

Key decision makers could be better persuaded if mobile money’s financial impact is translated into health impact. Mobile money has the potential to improve health, but not as a standalone effort. Health projects provide the trained staff and service infrastructures to deliver results in health areas of greatest need. Demonstrable health impact can provide ministries and agencies with a powerful justification for adopting mobile money that complements the financial rationale. 

Mobile money can benefit from mHealth on the revenue and cost sides. The health sector provides an enormous market for mobile money. Integrating mobile money and mHealth can also use common networks and infrastructures to reduce costs. More than a mere market, health organizations can be valuable partners for demand creation and government buy-in. These opportunities can prompt continued consideration of linkages between mobile money and mHealth.

What are examples of mobile money for the health sector in developing countries? What are the drivers and barriers for this market? How should the mobile money and mHealth fields collaborate? You are welcome to post comments below or in the topic forum.

We will continue this topic on Tuesday with a consideration of “What Mobile Money Offers mHealth.” 


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