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New report demonstrates the need for systematic use of mobile technology in healthcare

Friday 24 March 2006
Last updated: 24/03/06

The role of mobile phones in increasing accessibility and efficiency in healthcare

A new report published today (24 March 2005) by Vodafone Group shows how current mobile technology can increase productivity, improve patient health and enable greater access to healthcare. Mobile has the potential to support Governments in their attempts to drive efficiency in healthcare costs(1) and improve overall levels of service.

The Role of Mobile Phones in Increasing Accessibility and Efficiency in Healthcare contains new research by Imperial College's Tanaka Business School in association with NHS Direct, the University of Dundee and the Office of Health Economics Consulting.

This report is the first time that mobile's contribution to healthcare has been systematically reviewed. It demonstrates benefits to patients through SMS self-care programmes and highlights efficiency gains in healthcare delivery. Key findings include:

  • Potential savings of between £240-370 million a year to the NHS in England alone by the introduction of Short Message Service (SMS) appointment reminders to patients(2)  
  • Improvement in glucose levels of 10% for young people with diabetes who manage their condition using a SMS support system. This level of improvement can potentially reduce complications of blindness by 76% and kidney disease by 50% associated with their condition
  • Potential cost savings of up to £1.9 million per 1000 patients if a SMS support system is introduced into treatment programmes for TB patients. The SMS support system also leads to a reduction in deaths and lead to public health benefits
  • Calls to NHS Direct through mobile are increasing faster than by landlines, especially in groups who were previously low users of NHS services

Alan Harper, Director of Vodafone Group Strategy, said: "Mobile epitomises the essential requirements for the transfer of health information: privacy, confidentiality, timeliness and direct personal communication. We recognise that mobile is not the panacea for all challenges in the healthcare sector but with penetration rates of over 90% for 15 to 44 year olds in the UK it does have an important role to play in helping transform service provision."

Dr Rifat Atun Opens in new window, Director of the Centre for Health Management at Tanaka Business School said: "This report has many examples of how mobile can increase efficiency, improve patients' ability to monitor and self-manage chronic conditions and promote better adherence to drug treatment. All of this is delivered using basic mobile applications, voice and SMS. Healthcare policy makers and commissioners must introduce mobile systematically within healthcare if we are to take full advantage of its potential."

Dr Mike Sadler, Medical Director of NHS Direct, concluded: "NHS Direct has revolutionised patient access to the NHS. Mobile is playing an important part in this. We know that the use of mobile in healthcare is acceptable to the public, and the benefits are available now. However, it is under-utilised at present. This report brings together a number of different studies, and shows how mobile offers genuine opportunities to address the challenges of healthcare in the 21st century."

A copy of the report can be downloaded from Opens in new window.

Notes to editors

1. Healthcare costs in Western Europe are rising faster than both population and GDP. In 1960 average healthcare spending in the then 15 member states was 3.9% of GDP; in 2003, it was 9.4%.

2. Trials have shown that SMS reminders lead to a 30-50% decline in missed hospital and doctors appointments. If extrapolated, this could save the NHS in England £240-£370 million a year - almost half its predicted deficit for 2005-06

3. The Role of Mobile Phones in increasing Accessibility and Efficiency in Healthcare was developed as part of Vodafone Group Plc's on-going programme of the Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones. The report contains five papers as follows:

  • The Upward Trend in Healthcare Spend
  • Analysis of calls to NHS Direct
  • A Review of the Characteristics and Benefits of SMS in Delivering Healthcare
  • The potential of SMS applications for the control of tuberculosis
  • Use of mobile technologies to enhance control of type 1 diabetes in young people: economic evaluation

4. Vodafone provides a full range of mobile telecommunications services, including voice and data communications. Vodafone has equity interests in 27 countries and Partner Networks in a further 32 countries, with a proportionate customer base of over 179 million. For more information, please visit Opens in new window

5. Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (11,000) and staff (6,000) of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Imperial College's Tanaka Business School is a world-class provider of business education and research, focusing primarily on Imperial strengths in innovation and entrepreneurship, finance and healthcare management. The School offers full-time and executive MBAs, Master's programmes in Finance, Risk Management, International Health Management and Management; and a PhD programme. Tanaka Business School

6. NHS Direct is a unique service for patients in England and Wales where patients can access health professionals to inquire about health issues. The NHS Direct Special Health Authority employs 3,000 staff, and handles over 650,000 calls to the telephone service and over 1 million visits to the website every month.

Speaker biographies

Alan Harper, Director of Vodafone Group Strategy
Alan Harper is the Group Strategy Director of Vodafone Group Plc.  He was appointed to this position on 1 July 2000.  He is a member of the Executive Committee of Vodafone Group, responsible for overall strategy, business integration, and for the Group Public Policy activities. He is also a member of the Investment Board of Vodafone Ventures and has been a Trustee of The Vodafone UK Foundation since July 2002 and was appointed Chairman of the Trustees in March 2004. Alan is also a Board member of the GSM Association.

Previously, Alan was Managing Director of Vodafone Ltd., the UK network operator.  He was also Chairman of Vodafone Paging and Vodafone Value Added & Data Services. 

Prior to joining Vodafone, Alan was Strategy Director of Unitel PCN (which became One2One and subsequently T-mobile UK) from its creation in 1989 until 1995.  Before this he held a variety of marketing and business deve lopment posi tions with BBC Enterprises, Infotec, Mercury Communications and STC Telecommunications.

Dr Rifat A. Atun, Director of the Centre for Health Management, Tanaka Busines School, Imperial College London
Dr. Rifat Atun is the Director of the Centre for Health Management and Reader in International Health Management at Tanaka Business School, Imperial College London, where he leads a multidisciplinary group of researchers.

His research interests include analysis of how contextual and health systems factors influence implementation of complex health innovations and programmes, in particular new health technologies and health programmes (such as HIV/AIDS, TB and primary care). His research also explores health sector reform and new service delivery models. He has authored two books and has published widely in peer reviewed journals, such as the Lancet, BMJ, Bulletin of the WHO and Health Policy.

He works closely with the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and UK Department for International Development and has extensive experience of designing, implementing and evaluating health systems development programmes.

Rifat is a member, by distinction, of the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal College of Physicians and was recently elected as a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Dr Mike Sadler, Medical Director of NHS Direct
Mike joined NHS Direct Special Health Authority as national Medical Director in November 2004. Key responsibilities in this role included clinical systems development, information governance, clinical performance, public health, and research. In February 2006, he took on the role of Chief Operating Officer, with overall responsibility for the operating performance of the organisation.

Having graduated from Nottingham University, Mike was a principal in general practice for 7 years, before moving into Public Health Medicine. Following a full-time academic year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he was awarded an MSc in Public Health Medicine with Distinction.

Mike was previously Deputy Director of Public Health Medicine at Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Health Authority, local Medical Director at NHS Direct Hampshire & Isle of Wight and Senior Lecturer at the National Co-ordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment at the University of Southampton. He was a member of the National Exemplar Review Advisory Board, and the Department of Health Review Group for the new Quality Standards for Out of Hours Care. He also provided both oral and written evidence to the Parliamentary Health Select Committee review of Out of Hours Services in summer 2004.

For further information or interviews, please call:

Puja Darbari or Amanda Powell-Smith, The Forster Company on 020 7403 2230 or 0781 807 1922 / 0771 144 4549
Email: or

Jon Earl, Vodafone Group, 01635 664444 or 07884 000333